The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Carlos Williams’s “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” is a twenty-eight-line, free-verse lyric in which a widow expresses her grief over the death of her husband as she looks at the growing plants and flowers of spring that remind her of her loss. It is a modernist version of a pastoral elegy that uses images of nature to lament the death of a loved one. Unlike earlier elegies such as John Milton’s seventeenth century “Lycidas” or Walt Whitman’s nineteenth century “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” there is not the usual coming to terms with the fact of mortality—no consolation, no hope, nor even resignation hold out in the end. Instead, the poem uses the dramatic interior monologue of the widow to express her sorrow as she looks at the trees, bushes, and flowers, ending with her final suicidal wish to be immersed in the marsh, and so be with her husband in death.

The poem begins with the widow thinking, “Sorrow is my own yard/ where the new grass/ flames as it has flamed/ often before.” Yet this year, rather than a sign of springtime joy, it is a “cold fire” that surrounds her and reminds her of her deceased husband and bereavement. Lines 7-8 jump suddenly into the past tense to explain, tersely, that she has lived for thirty-five years with her husband.

Lines 9 19 come back to the present to describe the springtime growth: First, the white plum tree with its “masses of flowers,” and then...

(The entire section is 448 words.)