poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.

Details for Paterson

William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
I just saw two boys.
One of them gets paid for distributing circulars
and he throws it down the sewer.

I said, Are you a Boy Scout?
He said, no.
The other one was.
I have implicit faith in
      the Boy Scouts

If you talk about it
long enough
you'll finally write it—
If you get by the stage
when nothing
can make you write—
If you don't die first

I keep those bests that love
      has given me
Nothing of them escapes—
I have proved it
proven once more in your eyes

Go marry! your son will have
blue eyes and still
there'll be no answer
you have not found a cure
No more have I for that enormous
wedged flower, my mind
miraculously upon
the dead stick of night

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1988 by Christopher MacGowan. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1988 by Christopher MacGowan. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

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
It was an icy day.
We buried the cat,
then took her box
and set fire to it

in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.
poem
The sky has given over 
its bitterness. 
Out of the dark change 
all day long 
rain falls and falls 
as if it would never end. 
Still the snow keeps 
its hold on the ground. 
But water, water 
from a thousand runnels! 
It collects swiftly, 
dappled with black 
cuts a way for itself 
through green ice in the
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.