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William Carlos Williams
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Poetry (1900-1945) > William Carlos Williams

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message 1: by Matthew (new)

Matthew One of my favorite poets, with Dylan Thomas and Bertolt Brecht.

Burning the Christmas Greens

Their time past, pulled down
cracked and flung to the fire
--go up in a roar

All recognition lost, burnt clean
clean in the flame, the green
dispersed, a living red,
flame red, red as blood wakes
on the ash--

and ebbs to a steady burning
the rekindled bed become
a landscape of flame

At the winter's midnight
we went to the trees, the coarse
holly, the balsam and
the hemlock for their green

At the thick of the dark
the moment of the cold's
deepest plunge we brought branches
cut from the green trees

to fill our need, and over
doorways, about paper Christmas
bells covered with tinfoil
and fastened by red ribbons

we stuck the green prongs
in the windows hung
woven wreaths and above pictures
the living green. On the

mantle we built a green forest
and among those hemlock
sprays put a herd of small
white deer as if they

were walking there. All this!
and it seemed gentle and good
to us. Their time past,
relief! The room bare. We

stuffed the dead grate
with them upon the half burnt out
log's smouldering eye, opening
red and closing under them

and we stood there looking down.
Green is a solace
a promise of peace, a fort
against the cold (though we

did not say so) a challenge
above the snow's
hard shell. Green (we might
have said) that, where

small birds hide and dodge
and lift their plaintive
rallying cries, blocks for them
and knocks down

the unseeing bullets of
the storm. Green spruce boughs
pulled down by a weight of
snow--Transformed!

Violence leaped and appeared.
Recreant! roared to life
as the flame rose through and
our eyes recoiled from it.

In the jagged flames green
to red, instant and alive. Green!
those sure abutments . . . Gone!
lost to mind

and quick in the contracting
tunnel of the grate
appeared a world! Black
mountains, black and red--as

yet uncolored--and ash white,
an infant landscape of shimmering
ash and flame and we, in
that instant, lost,

breathless to be witnesses,
as if we stood
ourselves refreshed among
the shining fauna of that fire.


message 2: by Matthew (new)

Matthew "...we, in that instant, lost, breathless to be witnesses... refreshed by the shining fauna of that fire."
Think about that.


message 3: by Ally (last edited Dec 21, 2012 06:29AM) (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I felt rather uneasy reading this poem. I think it was the talk of Hemlock (repeated) and the violence within it. I'm not sure I'm ready to think of the 'aftermath' of Christmas just yet (...I'm really enjoying getting into the Christmas Spirit!) but I can see the beauty of this poem. It's interesting that the poem interweaves pagan symbols with Christian imagery. I think I'll come back to this one in the New Year!


message 4: by Matthew (new)

Matthew I think a lot of WCW's poetry is meant to be sort of confusing and without a clear meaning. Everyone finds something different to like in his poems. I, for example, like how this poem can portray such a simple and common event as so rabid and violent. It doesn't mention anything about Christmas, or how Christmas was to the people in the poem; they only want to watch the trees burn, in complete silence and awe.

It, to me, comments on how disposable many things are to the middle class, even when those things supposedly have great symbolic value, like the Christmas tree does. Perhaps that's a radical interpretation.


message 6: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
ah!...well now that makes more sense! ha ha.


message 7: by Charles (new)

Charles Matt wrote: "I think a lot of WCW's poetry is meant to be sort of confusing and without a clear meaning. Everyone finds something different to like in his poems. I, for example, like how this poem can portray..."

I'll have to disagree here for mixing up confusing, clear meaning, and personal discovery. Polysemous writing is desireable in poetry especially. Some of the meanings would be clear, some not so. Confusion isn't a property of good poetry but of readers, and allied to an inclination to devalue the problem by pushing it with 'Oh well, everyone finds their own meaning" -- a statement which English teachers are not fond of. Asking little Johnny what the poem means, or worse asking Johnny the B.A. what is the consensus of reputable critics. Not only do you have a right to interpret the poem as you see fit, accounting for as many of it's attributes as you can, but a good poem will encourage that, and will resist the critics as well. Carry on, Matt. The work's worth it.


message 8: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Do you think that some poetry can come across as elitist?

I certainly found while studying the 1930s poets that some were almost 'mocking' the reader at first with allusions or language (or both) that were deliberately obscure...but it's hard to knock that little self-satisfied feeling when you finally 'get it'!

I do think that in all writing there is a point at which the work becomes property of the reader over and above the writer...it's at that point that, no matter what the writer intended, the reader MUST filter the thing through their own understanding and experiences. The writer cannot totally control that.

Its nice to take a scholarly look at poetry (i.e. to learn about what we're meant to see) but its much more satisfying to experience the thing in our own ways and make up our own minds about what it means for us as individuals.


message 9: by Charles (last edited Dec 24, 2012 06:30PM) (new)

Charles I'm going to object to this. I the first place, it demeans the reader by implying that the emotional payoff and "meanings *only* relevant to us" are not what the poem means. That *is* what it means, and is the point of the poem. But second, that the "scholarly approach" is somehow irrelevant or elitist. One first reads the poem for oneself. But there is always more to the poem than that. If there weren't it wouldn't be a very good poem, nor would it allow multiple personal readings by different people. In a good poem there is *always* something unaccounted for. It's inexhaustible. What's wrong with exploring beyond our initial reading? That doesn't invalidate the first response, it enriches it. I think the use of the word "scholarly" here is in response to those snooty know-it-all teachers who insist that only properly educated persons can understand poetry, which understanding comes from listening to whatever conclusions our betters have come to. These people are not scholars, they are bad teachers, and they give real erudition a bad name. I hope, Ally and Val, you see that I'm agreeing with you as to your entitlement to read the poem the way you want to.


message 10: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I took a poetry class in college and it helped me to understand the interpretation of what the poet meant in a particular poem. But on readings these same poems later I came to a deeper understanding of the poetry. And I think it gets deeper the more times you read the poem. I think "The Waste Land" is a perfect example of this. Also, some of Wallace Stevens' work.

For me, poetry was a step outside my regular curriculum - having been a history major. But I think, also, that by reading poetry of a particular era you can come to a deeper understanding of the era.


message 11: by Charles (new)

Charles Poetry and detective stories.


message 12: by Gene (last edited Dec 28, 2012 08:10PM) (new)

Gene Ruyle (plainsmann) | 14 comments On message 8: . . . Ally, you wrote "I do think that in all writing there is a point at which the work becomes property of the reader over and above the writer...it's at that point that, no matter what the writer intended, the reader MUST filter the thing through their own understanding and experiences. The writer cannot totally control that.

Its nice to take a scholarly look at poetry (i.e. to learn about what we're meant to see) but its much more satisfying to experience the thing in our own ways and make up our own minds about what it means for us as individuals.
"

I liked your reflection at this juncture, because it stresses the importance of both the "scholarly" and the "personal" meaning found in any poem or piece that is read by a reader. It is, if you will, a celebration of what might be called "the inviolability of what the reader receives" -- something terribly important -- and, again if you will, its corollary "the inviolability of what the writer writes." And it is on this latter point that I include tiny portions of notes he wrote between 1928-1930, which he introduced this way: "TO MY BOYS--Wishing them luck. "I'd like this to be printed as it is, faults and all. But don't waste very much time on it, if you feel inclined to spend any time on it at all. It is intended to go along with a life and to be in no sense its objective."

[I jump around to a teensy few of the tasty morsels he offered up on Shakespeare:]

"I will draw a picture of Shakespeare as I conceive him to have been, an inevitable prophet of the world as it is coming to be today. It is of no consequence whatever that he may be conceived otherwise, it will not be unproven that my conveption is anything but appropriate to his plays. i conceive hims so for my purpose.

Were it not so he would never have begun with the light, smart, somewhat clumsy comedies -- of little meat and no premeditation-- lit by small flashes in certain lines but essentially good theatre and that is all; then grow, grow into the thing and over a lifetime produce the cloth of a life--his own--with profounder artistry (not thought) succeeding each success. Shakespeare is nowhere thought, he is all play, all THE play. It is real, unique, impossible, unalterable, fast. Thought occurs nowhere in Shakespeare as such . . . It is a parcel with life.

. . .Shakespeare the country boy of genius, ambition, abundant fancy and no learning at all, frail perhaps, not at least focused in the center of his belly nor in the arms: was drawn to London in a time--or forced there--foe where else could he go with a taste for pleasures of the imagination in that time. Marlowe was twenty years old, talk was free. An actor's life and vocabulary. Shakespeare took the print, it became fixed. But he had, unknown to him, or any of them, what the city gallant and the scholar were divorced from, a country man's sense of the fastness of the world of things, the moods of natural phenomena.

Eyes, ears, a tongue, words and a convivial spirit soaked in a world seething of deeds and their repercussions in minds at the center, London, with a certain country shrewdness for success--and a saving ignorance of the futility of both science and philosophy, then waking, gave him a peculiar advantage. He was stopped but freed, by the stop impelled even to contort his wit doubly hard and to be twice real to achieve reality and compete with scholars who lose as they gain. It is this which gave his work brilliance and permanence." (p.2, pp.14-15)

[And here a jump of many, many pages, to:]"What kind of man could this have been and what kind only? One who lived ONLY by this means. One then who was not himself outside of the character, who could not be. Not a fool but a fluid--something quite undistinguished hungering for distinction by no change whatever a great savant.

It is impossible that Shakespeare could so voluntarily annihilate himself and BE in the characters ALWAYS the actual: that is, nothing besides the character. He was a homeless, sexless--original less minded that, being almost without education of any kind, but of large size and heady flow, took on in a mould that solely suited it and came ready, the only thing it could, the actual shape of lives.

The dynamics of his dramas cannot be studied otherwise than in the same way: as happenings. They cannot be reduced to a grammar if they are to be intelligently appreciated. They must be approached as the effects of change in the characters. They mean no more.

Shakespeare is misunderstood if he is made a great figure, a bighead, a colossus of learning.--He is the effect of a kind of thing which has been unique in the world, a namelessness of unprecedented freedom, permeable and bulk--a dumbness as of a tree, river, sky, nation, peasant--recording almost mindlessly, greatness.
" (p.100)

Thanks, Ally, for your sounding this note up front and at the start. Long live the reader's sense of things along with writer's -- in that inviolability that unites them both.


Embodiment of Knowledge by William Carlos Williams William Carlos Williams


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