The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A short poem in free verse, “The Young Housewife” consists of three stanzaic units of four, five, and three lines each. The poem is told by a first-person narrator who seems to be William Carlos Williams himself, although one has no way of knowing that this is the case. The title identifies a woman who is the object of attention of the poem’s narrator, indicating that she is young, recently married, and identified in relation to the house in which she and her husband live.

These motifs are elaborated in the poem’s first sentence, the emotional high point of which is the narrator’s fantasy of the woman “in negligee.” Clearly, the narrator knows her and is attracted to her. He apparently does not have access to the woman, however, and his story becomes a humorous variation on the theme that unrequited love (or lust) soon becomes a bore. The first four words of stanza 2 (“Then again she comes”) and the multiple indefinite objects of the woman’s calling (“the ice-man, fish-man”) suggest that stanza 1—indeed, the whole poem—does not describe a one-time event but rather recurrent events that happen fairly frequently. Perhaps the narrator drives by the woman’s house every day “at ten a.m.” on his way to work. The woman’s coming “to the curb” and the other events of stanzas 2 and 3 are repeated, too, though less frequently than his driving by her house.

Altogether, the poem is a...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Parallelism may be the central principle informing the poem’s technique, form, and content. While the poem can be described as free verse, it nevertheless plays with the possibility of metrical and formal regularity. Many of its lines are four-and five-stress, eight-and nine-syllable lines. There are frequent stretches of regular meter among the lines. The poem is “almost” in quatrains. All of this parallels, without really adhering to, conventional English and American versification.

More specific parallelisms exist. The content of the three stanzaic units is arranged in a parallel manner: In each of them, the narrator first treats the woman, then himself. Stanza 1 initially sums up his fantasies of her as being “in negligee,” while stanza 2 initially sums up his perceptions of her, and stanza 3 initially sums up his imagined, metaphorical rendering of her fate. These are parallel modes of his conceiving of her, describing her, and imagining her. Still more local parallelisms occur in this material: For example, stanzas 1 and 2 begin with a time reference, which is followed by a reference to the woman herself, followed in turn by an account of her actions that contains a reference to her clothing and, implicitly, her body. A kind of grammatical parallelism (a synthetic parallelism), built on the subject-predicate repetitions (“I pass,” “I compare,” “I bow and pass”), closes each of the three stanzas. In stanza 1, this grammatical...

(The entire section is 517 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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Copestake, Ian D., ed. Rigor of Beauty: Essays in Commemoration of William Carlos Williams. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

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Lenhart, Gary, ed. The Teachers and Writers Guide to William Carlos Williams. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1998.

Lowney, John. The American Avant-Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997.

Mariani, Paul. William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked. 1981. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.

Vendler, Helen, ed. Voices and Visions: The Poet in America. New York: Random House, 1987.

Whitaker, Thomas R. William Carlos Williams. Boston: Twayne, 1989.