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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...

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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.)

Marianne Moore

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[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

or

    It is spring. Sunshine … dumped among factories
    … down a red dirt path to four goats….
                                            (p. 214)

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.

Ezra Pound

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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 wholly different kettle of fish. There are also numerous people who think that the given subject has an inherent interest simply because it is American and that this gives it ipso facto a dignity or value above all other possible subjects; Williams may even think he has, or may once have thought he had this angle of attack, but he hasn't.

After a number of years, and apropos of a given incident he has (first quarterly number of transition) given a perfectly clear verbal manifestation of his critical attitude. It is that of his most worthy european contemporaries, and of all good critics. It is also symptomatic of New York that his analysis of the so-called criticisms of Antheil's New York concert shd. appear in Paris, a year after the event, in an amateur periodical.

The main point of his article being that no single one of the critics had made the least attempt at analysis, or had in any way tried to tell the reader what the music consisted of, what were its modes or procedures. And that this was, of course, what the critics were, or would in any civilized country have been, there for. This article is perhaps Williams' most important piece of critical writing…. (pp. 398-99)

Very well, [Williams] does not "conclude"; his work has been "often formless," "incoherent," opaque, obscure, obfuscated, confused, truncated, etc.

I am not going to say: "form" is a non-literary component shoved onto literature by Aristotle or by some non-literatus who told Aristotle about it. Major form is not a non-literary component. But it can do us no harm to stop an hour or so and consider the number of very important chunks of world-literature in which form, major form, is remarkable mainly for absence. (p. 400)

The component of these great works and the indispensable component is texture; which Dr Williams indubitably has in the best, and in increasingly frequent, passages of his writing….

Now in reading Williams, let us say this last book A Voyage to Pagany or almost anything else he has written, one may often feel: he is wrong. I don't mean wrong in idea, but: that is the wrong way to write it. He oughtn't to have said that. But there is a residue of effect. The work is always distinct from the writing that one finds merely hopeless and in strict sense irremediable. (p. 401)

If Pagany is not Williams' best book, if even on some counts, being his first long work, it is his worst, it indubitably contains pages and passages that are worth any one's while, and that provide mental cud for any ruminant tooth….

A Voyage to Pagany has not very much to do with the "art of novel writing," whcih Dr Williams has fairly clearly abjured. Its plot-device is the primitive one of "a journey," frankly avowed. Entire pages cd. have found place in a simple autobiography of travel.

In the genealogy of writing it stems from Ulysses….

As to subject or problem, the Pagany relates to the Jamesian problem of U.S.A. vs. Europe, the international relation etc….

In the American Grain remains, I imagine Dr Williams' book having the greater interest for the European reader. (p. 403)

[The] best pages of Williams—at least for the present reviewer—are those where he has made the least effort to fit anything into either story, book, or (In the American Grain) into an essay. I wd. almost move from that isolated instance to the generalization that plot, major form, or outline shd. be left to authors who feel some inner need for the same; even let us say, a very strong, unusual, unescapable need for these things; and to books where the said form, plot, etc, springs naturally from the matter treated. (pp. 403-04)

As to the general value of Carlos Williams' poetry I have nothing to retract from the affirmation of its value that I made ten years ago, nor do I see any particular need of repeating that estimate; I shd. have to say the same things, and it wd. be with but a pretence or camouflage of novelty.

When an author preserves, by any means whatsoever, his integrality, I take it we ought to be thankful. We retain a liberty to speculate as to how he might have done better, what paths wd. conduce to, say progress in his next opus, etc. to ask whether for example Williams wd. have done better to read W. H. Hudson than to have been interested in Joyce. At least there is place for reflection as to whether the method of Hudson's A Traveller in Little Things wd. serve for an author so concerned with his own insides as is Williams; or whether Williams himself isn't at his best—retaining interest in the uncommunicable or the hidden roots of the consciousness of people he meets, but yet confining his statement to presentation of their objective manifests.

No one but a fanatic impressionist or a fanatic subjectivist or introversialist will try to answer such a question save in relation to a given specific work. (p. 404)

Ezra Pound, "Dr. Williams' Position," in The Dial (copyright, 1928, by The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.; reprinted by permission of J. S. Watson, Jr. and Scofield Thayer), November, 1928, pp. 395-404.

John Ciardi

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["Paterson" is] epic in intent, if by "epic" one is willing to understand "the sustained handling of a society-enclosing subject matter." As such, "Paterson" is related to such poems as Pound's "Cantos," Eliot's "The Waste Land," and Crane's "The Bridge." If one may define traditional epic as "the celebration in narrative verse of great deeds performed by a single hero or set of heroes," this latter-day type of epic may be distinguished at once from the traditional by the fact that its development is not narrative but symphonic, and by the additional fact that time in this "modern" epic tends to become a continual present.

This modern epic is symphonic in its development because it does not tell a tale but, rather, orchestrates multiple themes of the human position…. [Its] subject is always in some sense what may be called "the racial memory"—the reflective conciousness in which past and future-anticipated blend at every moment with the present awareness of the poet-teller.

It may well be that in discarding so fundamental an attraction as narrative, these poems doom themselves to dullness. All of them can certainly be dull, and even impenetrable, at times. But partial failure does not preclude partial or even great success….

[The] action-hero [of the heroic epic] is too grand and too simple a figure to express the scope of our times. And straight narrative is too single a method for the complexities of our world….

"Paterson" is the process of an intellectual Ulysses, of the intellectual-hero rather than of the action-hero, of the reflective man seeking to evoke and to enter the meaning of the landscape of his life. (p. 37)

Paterson is more than the town built around the falls of the Passaic. At those falls a great stone outcropping causes a bend in the river and makes—if only in Williams's imagination—a natural shape that suggests the figure of a man lying on his side. That stone figure is also Paterson, the Sleeping Giant, the Genius of that Place. He is also the genius of time, for the falls changed that natural woodland into an industrial town…. And in so doing, Paterson converted Paterson into a dirty factory town. The very river (of time, of life, of beginnings) has been polluted and despoiled. Still another Paterson is William Carlos Williams himself—the man of that place, the man who walks that land with his memory and his mind open to what has been, to what is passing, and to what portends…. Like a theme in music, the Paterson-concept keeps developing and changing. (pp. 37-8)

The failure of communication between men is a constant theme of "Paterson." Another is the debasement of what was once good. "Paterson I" sets out to "trace the elemental character of the place." It ends, significantly, with a reference to the choriambus or "deformed" foot of the metric of Hipponax: "The choriambi are in poetry what the dwarf or cripple is in human nature…. Deformed verse was suited to deformed morality."

Of the various Patersons (Paterson-the-Sleeping-Giant, Paterson-New Jersey, and Paterson-Williams) I take "Paterson V" to be most intimately of Paterson-Williams. The first four books have about found the place. It is himself the poet must now find. Or rather, find again. (p. 38)

Here he introduces as another basic theme of "Paterson V" the Virgin and the Whore, the themes constantly changing and regrouping. They become Art and Morality. They become the Artist pursuing his Image. They become the aspiration of innocence and the pursuit of understanding…. And if I follow meaningfully the sequence of the thematic development, it is finally to that woman of the life-bearing virtues the poet comes, the virgin-and-whore, the whole woman with whom he has experienced that enduring human communication which is a lifetime of love. For unless that communication is achieved nothing can make meaning…. [The] "tragic foot" is not only the cleft foot of the satyr (a figure both of deformity and of sex) but a reference once more to the "deformed foot" of Hipponax.

And thus one may locate a third central characteristic of this sort of poetry: the statement is never complete at any one point. Like music it touches, develops, dissolves away from, returns to, puts into a new counterpoint, and finally brings to rest. But there is never any one statement on which one may put his finger and say "this is the meaning." The meaning is a constant process. And though there are times when I find myself baffled, Williams is still a master of this method, and still able to lure the reading on by the richness of the suggestion he does manage to release. (p. 39)

John Ciardi, "The Epic of a Place," in Saturday Review (Entire issue copyright 1958 by Saturday Review Associates, Inc.; reprinted with permission), October 11, 1958, pp. 37-9.

Mike Weaver

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Having abandoned the borrowed nineteenth-century 'Composition' of his youth, Williams began with the 'Impression'. From 1913 to 1916 the portrait and the pastoral were his best media. If one were to turn for an analogy in painting for the poems in the collection Al Que Quiere, it would be to the Ashcan school of realism, in which the dignity of human life was rendered by impressionistic means. Williams' 'townspeople', although not products of the East Side slums, were similarly treated; for example, the old man who collects dog-lime from the gutter but whose walk is more majestic than that of the Episcopal minister. (p. 39)

The background of general revolt in art inspired … a sense of fellow-feeling in which Expressionist and Constructivist painters, the Blaue Reiter group and the Cubists, thought of themselves as one movement—the 'modern' movement. Williams, as it happened, was acquainted with a mixed group; mystical Cubists …, Dadaists …, and Expressionists…. In a period when he was producing improvisations, sedulously studying such a profoundly constructive, or 'synthetic', Cubist as Gris …, Williams' work was a composite plagiarism or generalised imitation of European innovations. While not being a painter himself he had joined the ranks of the painters who were poets 'on the side'; Abseitigen like Kurt Schwitters, Raoul Hausmann, Hans Arp, and Lajos Kassák.

The advantages in taking as an aesthetic point of reference the European modern movement in art rather than the English tradition in poetry were very great for an American bent on releasing the native ground to the imagination. Williams' well-known aversion for T. S. Eliot was not merely personal envy of the success of The Waste Land, but a rejection of the philosophy, including the philosophy of art, of a literary tradition in which he felt he could play no part. He was persuaded, furthermore, that no American faced with his local conditions and his own temperament could find a use for Eliot. A comparison between The Waste Land and Williams' lyric, 'By the road to the contagious hospital', published within months of each other, suggests how far apart in their sense of the ground Eliot and Williams really were. Eliot in London was abstracting spiritual values, or an absence of them, from the air; Williams, in the physical waste-land of his own part of New Jersey, detected an irrepressible force in the soil. (pp. 43-4)

Williams' analogies for invention in poetry in the late twenties were drawn from physics rather than from linguistics. While superficially sharing with the New Critics the principle of the autonomy of the poetic object, he did not share the preoccupations of Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom with literary precedent. (p. 65)

The mechanical-plastic analogy of [Williams'] Objectivist phase resulted in a conception of the poem as an abstract design of inter-connected working parts, where the projective power of the verse was derived entirely from the organisation of those parts. But this analogy represented only one possibility to Williams. By 1944 … another analogy less consonant with the scientific age and more closely related to human capacity for projective power had presented itself again. It came from jazz. (pp. 70-1)

Rather like the jazz revivalists of the early forties …, Williams tried to find what American poetry had escaped the blight of The Waste Land. (p. 75)

Williams' notion of the variable foot bears a straightforward relation to the metrical organisation of jazz. The great rhythmic variety of the blues depends entirely upon the varying syllabic quantity compressed or expanded within the strictly temporal feet of its classic stanza. Its variety depends upon verbal improvisation, which in turn depends on performative flexibility within the vocal phrasing…. Where such easy rhythmic variability is present the poem may be said to swing, or in Williams' terms to possess the quality of measure. But swing or measure as a perceptual phenomenon depends entirely upon the relation between the phrasing and a steady beat, whether sounded or merely sensed. It defies notation, or scansion, because it is derived not from a time-signature but from performance.

What was merely 'hot' in manner was, as Williams knew, no substitute for swing, which requires not tension but relaxation in the performer…. Projective verse, [however] is the product not of a relaxed performer but a tense one. Like Abstract-Expressionist painting, its psychic content is more closely related to the aggression and anxiety of the Beat generation than to the primitive spontaneity of a late nineteenth-century Negro peasantry. (pp. 77-8)

In the company of Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and … Cid Corman, Williams was encouraged, while severely incapacitated by a series of cerebral strokes, to make explicit the tactic which he had pursued since 'Speech Rhythm' forty years before. The locomotor writing of this group is based essentially on the simple physiological functions of breathing and moving; man in general walks, the poet dances. Williams' own use of a description of the act of walking in Paterson catches the walker at the projective instant when the wave of energy breaks, and before the rhythmic recoil begins all over again. This was the simple conception of action which he wanted. But by the time his youthful followers had taken up his cause his own physical resources were checked.

Hugh Kenner, who edited Williams' final essay on 'Measure', has suggested that Williams' use of the three-part line of the late poems stemmed from his inability to read after the brain damage of his strokes…. But, although this suggests a physical reason why Williams increasingly used the 'triadic foot' in the last years of his life, the evidence of the publication in Paterson in 1948 of 'The descent beckons' must be considered. The origin of the three-part line was probably in Pound's original printing of 'In a Station of the Metro'.

    The apparition    of these faces    in the crowd:
    Petals       on a wet, black       bough.

To re-arrange these groups of three in a step-down line was a natural, if unconscious, development of the idea of the musical phrase:

              The apparition
                      of these faces
                               in the crowd:
              Petals
                      on a wet, black
                               bough.

This use of a line with three feet or bars is, of course, neither accentual nor quantitative, but what Williams chose to call 'qualitative'. It answered the needs of the American idiom…. In 'The descent beckons' the changed tone falls on an apparently unimportant, but ambiguous 'even', which is in fact the pivot of the movement:

                               Memory is a kind
        of accomplishment
                    a sort of renewal
                               even
        an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
                    inhabited by hordes
                               heretofore unrealized

'Even'both refers back from renewal to memory and introduces an initiation to new places at the same instant. American intonation is what makes this possible, but the timing must also be exact if the point of balance is to be auditorily perceived. Straining towards the perfect 'image', Williams, like all the Imagists, endorsed the predominantly visual emphasis of the word…. Williams' 'measure' was inclusive; it embraced the theory of poetic structure, the perception of form, and man's objective and subjective role in the world; 'Measure is the only solidity we are permitted to know in our sensible world, to measure.'

The moral conviction that the language accurately used was objectively true to reality, and that the poet must be true to his materials, led Williams inevitably to political considerations. His belligerence towards British English was consistent with the surge of spirit that prompted him to write 'The Writers of the American Revolution', which asked for reconfirmation of 'a new world reconstituted on an abler pattern than had been known heretofore'. His attitude towards the English iambic line was expressed as an accusation of latent fascism when called it the 'medieval masterbeat'. The true government was 'the government of the words, since it is of all governments the archetype'. Language, prosody, and state rested on a single democratic idea. (pp. 85-8)

Zukofsky [after reading Williams' 'Democratic Party Poem'], chided him for his naivety in believing in a mythic democracy. Williams defended himself claiming that he had at one time considered an ironic ending for his poem, and had rejected it: 'I wanted to say "If this is all impossible, as you may see at once that it is, what then?"—.' (p. 91)

In Williams' understanding of the term, to be a revolutionary writer was to be an American writer. (p. 97)

In 1927 and 1928, in an extraordinarily violent piece of improvisation headed 'Rome', Williams poured out his radical thoughts on the value of the murderous and perverted element in American life. He suggested to himself that it was the degenerate element, the pure products of a country gone insane or syphilitic, which was the remnant of a heroic pioneer society. The wild, decayed, and doomed represented an aristocracy of the mind whose bodies obeyed impulses which if not socially beneficient showed a wholly admirable independence of conservative thought. No perversion, no matter how shocking, was worse than inversion. Inversion stemmed from an exaggerated respect for given forms; whether for woman, which resulted in homosexuality in men; or for the line in poetry, which resulted in inversion of the phrase. It was encouraged by the absurd prohibitions, by the forces opposed to change. An eruption like that of Mount Pelée was inevitable since 'the pleasure of motion to relief', whether in sex or poetry, was something which could not be averted, but only perverted in its outlet. It followed that the dignity of illegality was a value for Williams…. [His] attitude towards the place of the fantastic in life and in art was established earlier than the arrival of a literary movement like Surrealism in America. Mrs. Cumming, Marcia Nardi (the woman correspondent), and Alva Turner, are not represented in Paterson because they are neurotic, but because their veracity as thwarted human beings—their unimpaired though distorted vigour—finds expression in action. (pp. 132-33)

In deciding the value of Surrealism to himself Williams turned not to political or aesthetic politics but to the substantial facts of his landscape; now perceived as the straight representation of the photographer, now as the Surrealist symbol of the fantasist. To the extent that Paterson is a poem based on the three-personed figure of N. F. Paterson (Noah, Faitoute, and the Poet/City) related to a manifold experience of women (including the woman-mountain) it is an extended trope in which the elements, conscious and unconscious, representational and symbolic, collide and recoil continuously, compounded neither into a fixed level of awareness nor into a single mode of expression. (p. 144)

Williams' rationale in support of heterosexuality was based, of course, on his early … sense of the dialectic between the sexes. Revolutionary potency depended upon the sexual relation, which the poet should carry through into his relation with the whole world. He opposed the domestication of the male element because, as he said, 'Man has been mother to woman so long that he has forgotten her function (and his own) in large measure….' The significant conjunction of man and woman, city and mountain, before the cavern at Passaic Falls provides an alchemical setting for [Paterson]…. (pp. 151-52)

Mike Weaver, in his William Carlos Williams: The American Background (© Cambridge University Press 1971), Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Hugh Kenner

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Williams was not, like Dickens or like Faulkner, an impersonator. But the habit of listening to voices extended to his own voice, so that he could write down the way he heard himself phrasing things:

                 THE POEM
 
                 It's all in
                 the sound. A song.
                 Seldom a song. It should
 
                 be a song—made of
                 particulars, wasps,
                 a gentian—something
                 immediate, open
 
                   scissors, a lady's
                   eyes—waking
                   centrifugal, centripetal

You hear the staccato phrasing of a taut voice. You also hear things speech wouldn't know how to clarify: the auditory relationships … with the white space prolonging the tension after "should"; and "open" floating between "immediate," which it clarifies, and "scissors," which it specifies (the delay of the white space again withholding "scissors" till we've had time to take "open" with immediate"). "A lady's," similarly, seems to go with "scissors" till round the corner of the line we encounter "eyes," and the last two words—"centrifugal, centripetal"—seem to tell us how the lady's wakened attention turns outward then inward, until we remember the title and think to include "centrifugal, centripetal" among the specifications for "The Poem." It's not "oral," it's too quirky and tricky for orality, but one of its qualifications for anatomizing its theme is that it knows what a voice sounds like.

It's not only not "oral," this poem, it's not fully present, not even quite intelligible, in being read aloud, nor yet in being looked at on the page. It's an audio-visual counter-point, and "the Imagination" Williams talked about is as good a name as any for the region where the complete poem can be said to exist.

This ability to move close to quite simple words, both hearing them spoken—not quite the same thing as hearing their sounds—and seeing them interact on a typewritten page, gave Williams the sense of constant discovery that saved him from feeling constantly responsible for weighty problems. He liked a poem he could spin round on one corner, and it freed him not to be encumbered with pronouncements. (pp. 85-7)

Process: growth and emergence: these were his themes: the effort of the new organism to define itself. They were comprised in what he meant by spring, by flowers and buds, by the "American idiom" (something new), by the effort at communal self-definition he discovered and re-enacted In the American Grain. (p. 88)

The struggle to get born, that was always Williams' plot; flowers fascinated him because they achieved it visibly, effortlessly. And then—the other half of his plot—the closure of the prison-house, as in Wordsworth and Blake, round the newborn potentiality. That prison-house—he is closer to Blake than to Wordsworth—is a communal failure, the lapsed Imagination…. [He] looked (like his classmate Pound) for a point of failure in history: no metaphysical wound … but a failure of vision, a lapsing of the Imagination. Hence his interest in the past of Paterson (which was never anything but a company town), and his singling out of the moment when "they saw birds with rusty breasts and called them robins."

Thus, from the start, an America of which they could have had no inkling drove the first settlers upon their past…. For what they saw were not robins. They were thrushes only vaguely resembling the rosy, daintier English bird….

The example is slight but enough properly to incline the understanding. Strange and difficult, the new continent induced a torsion in the spirits of the first settlers, tearing them between the old and the new. And at once a split occurred in that impetus which should have carried them forward as one into the dangerous realities of the future….

That is his myth of history, a birth rejected out of fear. His long career means that a poet needs no more ideas than that…. Chiefly a poet needs a passionate interest in the language, in the words people use, and the words they might use but do not…. What people say, what they do not say but might: that, related to a myth of history, was Williams' field of preoccupation. And the myth—remembering settlers who did not guess how much depended on what they should call the bird they chose to call "robin"—is written invisibly down the margins of his least pretentious poems, which affirm, again and again, no more than "how much depends": depends upon the act of finding a few dozen words, and upon their array once a poet has found them. (p. 90)

Hugh Kenner, in his A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers (copyright © 1975 by Hugh Kenner; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf. Inc.), Knopf, 1975.

William Baker

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Note the urgency and immediacy of the opening paragraph [of The Use of Force]: "They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson. Please come down as soon as you can, my daughter is very sick." The two sentences might have been punctuated as four, but William Carlos Williams, anxious to get to his point, uses commas to keep us flowing with him. Here and throughout he omits quotation marks for the direct address, another device to convey urgency. From the first rushing sentences Williams comes on like the Ancient Mariner, grabbing our lapels to tell of the doctor's compulsion. At first we think we might have a classic rescued-from-death tale, since early on we read, "As it happens we had been having a number of cases of diphtheria in the school to which this child went during the month." The last two thirds of the story, though, is not about death but about the strange problem of getting to see the girl's throat. (p. 7)

There are two conflicts: one within the girl and the other within the doctor. The girl feels, I believe, that if evil is not discovered it does not exist. As long as we keep evil to ourselves, it is containable and controllable. When others discover our secret, we are no longer in control and all is lost. Thus, the little girl hid her sore throat for the same reason that some of us avoid a dentist who will find cavities in our teeth. We know we are acting unreasonably, but we don't go to the same lengths, nor is our fear as strong as the girl's, for she fought with supreme effort, crying bitterly when she lost.

The second conflict, more interesting to Williams the writer rather than Williams the medical doctor, is about an adult's anger at himself when he is required to use force to accomplish his aim—even if the aim is noble in itself. Force is alien to a mature and cultivated mind, though learning about its psychological effect is part of growing up. When all else fails, reason tells us we must resort to force, but we are disgusted with ourselves when we give in. The anger and disgust rob the occasion of any sense of satisfaction: we win the physical battle but lose the war within our psyche.

A common-sense analysis would point out that it is natural to feel anger and disgust when using violent force, as in rape. The doctor says, "Perhaps I should have desisted and come back in an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better." The solution then is patience and a sensible and safe relief of frustration, but that's a story with a moral.

The power of the story is its sense of urgency and its brevity. The author doesn't have time to fill in the blanks. His intention is not character-development nor plot-exposition in the usual sense. His intention is to get in and get out quickly, focusing on what he has discovered about the use of force. (pp. 7-8)

William Baker, in The Explicator (copyright © 1978 by Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Fall, 1978.

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