Williams, William Carlos 1883–1963
One of the finest American poets of his generation, Williams was also a novelist, playwright, editor, essayist, and practicing physician. Rejecting the poetic style established by Eliot as overly academic, Williams sought a more natural poetic expression. He endeavored to replicate American speech forms and to capture the idiomatic cadence of both life and speech in America. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is his collection Paterson, a poetic depiction of urban America. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 9.)
[In the main], Doctor Williams' topics are American—crowds at the movies
with the closeness and
universality of sand,
turkey nests, mushrooms among the fir trees, mist rising from the duck pond, the ball game:
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing
It is spring. Sunshine … dumped among factories
… down a red dirt path to four goats….
Essentially not a "repeater of things second-hand," Doctor Williams is in his manner of contemplating with new eyes, old things, shabby things, and other things, a poet. Metre he thinks of as an "essential of the work, one of its words." That which is to some imperceptible, is to him the "milligram of radium" that he values. He is rightly imaginative in not attempting to decide; or rather, in deciding not to attempt to say how wrong these readers are, who find his poems unbeautiful or "positively repellant."…
Facts presented to us by him in his prose account of The Destruction of Tenochtitlan, could not be said to be "new," but the experience ever, in encountering that which has been imaginatively assembled is exceedingly new. One recalls in reading these pages, the sense augmented, of "everything which the world affords," of "the drive upward, toward the sun and the stars"; and foremost as poetry, we have in a bewilderingly great, neatly ordered pageant of magnificence, Montezuma, "this American cacique," "so delicate," "so full of tinkling sounds and rhythms, so tireless of invention."
One sees nothing terrifying in what Doctor Williams calls a "modern traditionalism," but to say so is to quibble. Incuriousness, emptiness, a sleep of the faculties, are an end of beauty; and Doctor Williams is vivid. Perhaps he is modern. He addresses himself to the imagination. He is "keen" and "compact." "At the ship's prow" as he says the poet should be, he is glad to have his "imaginary" fellow-creatures with him. Unless we are very literal, this should be enough. (p. 215)
Marianne Moore, "A Poet of the Quattrocento," in The Dial (copyright, 1927, by The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.; reprinted by permission of J. S. Watson, Jr. and Scofield Thayer), March, 1927, pp. 213-15.
The lack of celerity in [Williams'] process, the unfamiliarity with facile or with established solutions wd. account for the irritation his earlier prose, as I remember it, caused to sophisticated Britons. "How any man could go on talking about such things!" and so on. But the results of this sobriety of unhurried contemplation, when apparent in such a book as In the American Grain, equally account for the immediate appreciation of Williams by the small number of french critics whose culture is sufficiently wide to permit them to read any modern tongue save their own.
Here, at last, was an America treated with a seriousness and by a process comprehensible to an European.
One might say that Williams has but one fixed idea, as an author; i.e., he starts where an european wd. start if an european were about to write of America: sic: America is a subject of interest, one must inspect it, analyse it, and treat it as subject. There are plenty of people who think they "ought" to write "about" America. This is an...
(The entire section is 5,455 words.)