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About this poet

On September 17, 1883, William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound.

Pound became a great influence on his writing, and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams's second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where he sustained his medical practice throughout his life, Williams began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.

Following Pound, he was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement, though as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.

His influence as a poet spread slowly during the 1920s and 1930s, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot's "The Waste Land"; however, his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970).

Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963.

The Descent

William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
The descent beckons
              as the ascent beckoned.                 
                               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,
of new kinds—
              since their movements
                               are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place
              formerly
                               unsuspected. A
world lost,
              a world unsuspected,
                               beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
of whiteness     .

With evening, love wakens
              though its shadows
                               which are alive by reason
of the sun shining—
              grow sleepy now and drop away
                               from desire     .

Love without shadows stirs now
              beginning to awaken
                               as night
advances.

The descent 
              made up of despairs
                               and without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening:
                               which is a reversal
of despair.
              For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love,
              what we have lost in the anticipation—
                               a descent follows,
endless and indestructible     .

from The Collected Poems: Vol. II, 1939-1962. Copyright © 1948, 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

from The Collected Poems: Vol. II, 1939-1962. Copyright © 1948, 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

Poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright William Carlos Williams is often said to have been one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement.

by this poet

poem
The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of 
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in
poem
Her body is not so white as
anemone petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand's span
of her
poem
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.