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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.

Tract

William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral--
for you have it over a troop
of artists--
unless one should scour the world--
you have the ground sense necessary.

See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ's sake not black--
nor white either--and not polished!
Let it be weathered--like a farm wagon--
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.

Knock the glass out!
My God--glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
how well he is housed or to see
the flowers or the lack of them--
or what?
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass--
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom--
my townspeople what are you thinking of?

A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.

		   No wreaths please--
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes--a few books perhaps--
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
my townspeople--
something will be found--anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.

For heaven's sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that's no place at all for him--
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down--bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I'd not have him ride
on the wagon at all--damn him--
the undertaker's understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!

Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind--as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly--
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What--from us? We who have perhaps 
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us--it will be money
in your pockets.

                         Go now
I think you are ready.

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

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
A woman's breasts
for beauty
A man's delights
for charm

The rod and cups
of duty
to stave us
from harm!

A woman's eyes
a woman's 
thighs and a man's
straight look:

Cities rotted to
pig-sties
will stand up by
that book!
poem
so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
poem
on getting a card
long delayed
from a poet whom I love
but

with whom I differ
touching
the modern poetic
technique

I was much moved 
to hear
from him if
as yet he does not

concede the point
nor is he
indeed conscious of it
no matter

his style 
has other outstanding
virtues
which delight me