The Widow's Lament in Springtime Themes
by William Carlos Williams

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As a member for a while of the Imagists and Objectivists in the modernist movement, Williams was, at this early stage in his career, following the model of his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound. Williams was striving for the simple, clear, concise, sharp image, presented as objectively as possible, with virtually no editorializing or commentary. In several ways “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” anticipates this strategy, seen in slightly later Williams poems such as “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Spring and All” (both published in the 1923 collection Spring and All). For Williams, the poem was both a picture and a “machine made of words,” and, as he famously said in his long poem Paterson (1946-1958), there are “[N]o ideas but in things.” That is, the abstract concepts in poetry are to be derived from, or couched in, concrete particulars. Like those two later short poems, “Widow’s Lament” creates a series of sharp images in free verse and, for the most part, in unadorned, simple language, inverts the usual symbolism of spring and utilizes continual enjambment, connecting short phrases of sentences that run down the page.

Several elements foreshadow the widow’s suicidal impulse at the end. One is the gradual movement of the four locations in nature—from her yard, to the meadows and woods, and finally to the swamp. Another is the symbol of the white flowers, mentioned immediately after (and associated with) the previous line about her years with her husband. The symbol of the white flowers on the trees appears again in line 24, which immediately triggers her desire to “sink into the marsh near them,” and so be in death with the white flowers that remind her of her lost husband. Her immersion into the former “joy” of the springtime flowers and into the oblivion of the reunion with her dead husband demonstrate the seductiveness, sensuousness,...

(The entire section is 472 words.)