William Carlos Williams was born
in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. 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
M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended
Ezra Pound. Pound became a great influence in Williams' writing,
and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams's
first 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 twenties and thirties, 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.
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 in 1963.
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
a Lady ( Top of Page
Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze -- or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
-- As if that answered
anything. -- Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore --
Which shore? --
the sand clings to my lips --
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
-- the petals from some hidden
appletree -- Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.
To Waken an
Old Lady ( Top of Page
Old age is
a flight of small
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffeted
by a dark wind --
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested --
is covered with broken
and the wind tempered
with a shrill
piping of plenty.
Field ( Top of Page
Vast and grey, the sky
is a simulacrum
to all but him whose days
are vast and grey and --
In the tall, dried grasses
a goat stirs
with nozzle searching the ground.
My head is in the air
but who am I . . . ?
-- and my heart stops amazed
at the thought of love
vast and grey
yearning silently over me.
Willow Poem ( Top of Page )
It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loth to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river --
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.
Blizzard ( Top of Page )
years of anger following
hours that float idly down --
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes --
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there --
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.
Spring Storm ( Top of Page )
The sky has given over
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 is seething
from a thousand runnels.
It collects swiftly,
dappled with black
cuts a way for itself
through green ice in the gutters.
Drop after drop it falls
from the withered grass stems
of the overhanging embankment.