Early Poems

Early Poems

by William Carlos Williams


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One of the most original and widely imitated poets of the twentieth century, William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) wrote verse firmly rooted in concrete experience and the particulars of everyday life. A practicing physician for more than 40 years, Williams worked in the idiom of modern American speech ― unlike his friend and mentor, Ezra Pound ― and his poems are redolent with a warmth and generosity of spirit. The Beat poets were particularly impressed with the accessibility of his language, and Williams's widely quoted dictum, "No ideas but in things," influenced a generation of American poets.
This fine selection offers readers the opportunity to study and enjoy the richness and variety of Williams's early work. More than 70 poems, published between 1917 and 1921, include "Peace on Earth," "Tract," "El Hombre," "Danse Russe," "Keller Gegen Dom," "Willow Poem," "Queen-Anne's-Lace," "Portrait of a Lady," "The Widow's Lament in Springtime," and many others.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486292946
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/20/2015
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

American poet William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) is closely associated with modernism and imagism. A pediatrician and general practitioner with a degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he won the first National Book Award for Poetry with Patterson.

Read an Excerpt

Early Poems

By William Carlos Williams

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1997 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15887-7




      If I when my wife is sleeping
      and the baby and Kathleen
      are sleeping
      and the sun is a flame-white disc
      in silken mists
      above shining trees,—
      if I in my north room
      danse naked, grotesquely
      before my mirror
      waving my shirt round my head
      and singing softly to myself:
      "I am lonely, lonely.
      I was born to be lonely.
      I am best so!"
      If I admire my arms, my face
      my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
      against the yellow drawn shades,—
      who shall say I am not
      the happy genius of my household?


      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 day 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 wreathes 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.


      Where shall I find you,
      you my grotesque fellows
      that I seek everywhere
      to make up my band?
      None, not one
      with the earthy tastes I require;
      the burrowing pride that rises
      subtly as on a bush in May.

      Where are you this day,
      you my seven year locusts
      with cased wings?
      Ah my beauties how I long—!
      That harvest
      that shall be your advent—
      thrusting up through the grass,
      up under the weeds
      answering me,
      that shall be satisfying!
      The light shall leap and snap
      that day as with a million lashes!
      Oh, I have you; yes
      you are about me in a sense:
      playing under the blue pools
      that are my windows,—
      but they shut you out still,
      there in the half light.
      For the simple truth is
      that though I see you clear enough
      you are not there!
      It is not that—it is you,
      you I want!
      —God, if I could fathom the guts of shadows!
      You to come with me
      poking into negro houses
      with their gloom and smell!
      In among children
      leaping around a dead dog!
      onto the lawns of the rich!
      to go with me a-tip-toe,
      head down under heaven,
      nostrils lipping the wind!


      When I was younger
      it was plain to me
      I must make something of myself.
      Older now
      I walk back streets
      admiring the houses
      of the very poor:
      roof out of line with sides
      the yards cluttered
      with old chicken wire, ashes,
      furniture gone wrong;
      the fences and outhouses
      built of barrel-staves
      and parts of boxes, all,
      if I am fortunate,
      smeared a bluish green
      that properly weathered
      pleases me best
      of all colors.
      No one
      will believe this
      of vast import to the nation.


      There is a bird in the poplars!
      It is the sun!
      The leaves are little yellow fish
      swimming in the river.
      The bird skims above them,
      day is on his wings.
      It is he that is making
      the great gleam among the poplars!
      It is his singing
      outshines the noise
      of leaves clashing in the wind.


      An oblique cloud of purple smoke
      across a milky silhouette
      of house sides and tiny trees —
      a little village—
      that ends in a saw edge
      of mist-covered trees
      on a sheet of grey sky.
      To the right, jutting in,
      a dark crimson corner of roof.
      To the left, half a tree:
      —what a blessing it is
      to see you in the street again,
      powerful woman,
      coming with swinging haunches,
      breasts straight forward,
      supple shoulders, full arms
      and strong, soft hands (I've felt them)
      carrying the heavy basket.
      I might well see you oftener!
      And for a different reason
      than the fresh eggs
      you bring us so regularly.
      Yes, you, young as I,
      with boney brows,
      kind grey eyes and a kind mouth;
      you walking out toward me
      from that dead hillside!
      I might well see you oftener.


      My townspeople, beyond in the great world,
      are many with whom it were far more
      profitable for me to live than here with you.
      These whirr about me calling, calling!
      and for my own part I answer them, loud as I can,
      but they, being free, pass!
      I remain! Therefore, listen!
      For you will not soon have another singer.

      First I say this: you have seen
      the strange birds, have you not, that sometimes
      rest upon our river in winter?
      Let them cause you to think well then of the storms
      that drive many to shelter. These things
      do not happen without reason.

      And the next thing I say is this:
      I saw an eagle once circling against the clouds
      over one of our principal churches—
      Easter, it was—a beautiful day! — :
      three gulls came from above the river
      and crossed slowly seaward!
      Oh, I know you have your own hymns, I have heard them—
      and because I knew they invoked some great protector
      I could not be angry with you, no matter
      how much they outraged true music —
      You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other,
      and, as I told you, in the end
      the gulls moved seaward very quietly.


      Surely there, among the great docks, is peace, my mind;
      there with the ships moored in the river.
      Go out, timid child,
      and snuggle in among the great ships talking so quietly.
      Maybe you will even fall asleep near them and be
      lifted into one of their laps, and in the morning—
      There is always the morning in which to remember it all!
      Of what are they gossiping? God knows.
      And God knows it matters little for we cannot understand them.
      Yet it is certainly of the sea, of that there can be no question.
      It is a quiet sound. Rest! That's all I care for now.
      The smell of them will put us to sleep presently.
      Smell! It is the sea water mingling here into the river—
      at least so it seems—perhaps it is something else—but what
      The sea water! It is quiet and smooth here!
      How slowly they move, little by little trying
      the hawsers that drop and groan with their agony.
      Yes, it is certainly of the high sea they are talking.


      Then I raised my head
      and stared out over
      the blue February waste
      to the blue bank of hill
      with stars on it
      in strings and festoons—
      but above that:
      one opaque
      stone of a cloud
      just on the hill
      left and right
      as far as I could see;
      and above that
      a red streak, then
      icy blue sky!
      It was a fearful thing
      to come into a man's heart
      at that time: that stone
      over the little blinking stars
      they'd set there.


      Daisies are broken
      petals are news of the day
      stems lift to the grass tops
      they catch on shoes
      part in the middle
      leave root and leaves secure.
      Black branches
      carry square leaves
      to the wood's top.
      They hold firm
      break with a roar
      show the white!
      Your moods are slow
      the shedding of leaves
      and sure
      the return in May!
      We walked
      in your father's grove
      and saw the great oaks
      lying with roots
      ripped from the ground.


      It's a strange courage
      you give me ancient star:
      Shine alone in the sunrise
      toward which you lend no part!


      You sullen pig of a man
      you force me into the mud
      with your stinking ash-cart!
      —if we were rich
      we'd stick our chests out
      and hold our heads high!
      It is dreams that have destroyed us.
      There is no more pride
      in horses or in rein holding.
      We sit hunched together brooding
      our fate.
      all things turn bitter in the end
      whether you choose the right or
      the left way
      dreams are not a bad thing.


      The old black-man showed me
      how he had been shocked
      in his youth
      by six women, dancing
      a set-dance, stark naked below
      the skirts raised round
      their breasts:
      bellies flung forward
      knees flying!
      his gestures, against the
      tiled wall of the dingy bath-room,
      swished with ecstasy to
      the familiar music of
      his old emotion.


      Sweep the house clean,
      hang fresh curtains
      in the windows
      put on a new dress
      and come with me!
      The elm is scattering
      its little loaves
      of sweet smells
      from a white sky!
      Who shall hear of us
      in the time to come?
      Let him say there was
      a burst of fragrance
      from black branches.


      I know only the bare rocks of today.
      In these lies my brown sea-weed,—
      green quartz veins bent through the wet shale;
      in these lie my pools left by the tide —
      quiet, forgetting waves;
      on these stiffen white star fish;
      on these I slip bare footed!
      Whispers of the fishy air touch my body;
      "Sisters," I say to them.


      Limb to limb, mouth to mouth
      with the bleached grass
      silver mist lies upon the back yards
      among the outhouses.
      The dwarf trees
      pirouette awkwardly to it—
      whirling round on one toe;
      the big tree smiles and glances
      Tense with suppressed excitement
      the fences watch where the ground
      as humped an aching shoulder for the ecstasy.


      Ecstatic bird songs pound
      the hollow vastness of the sky
      with metallic clinkings—
      beating color up into it
      at a far edge,—beating it, beating it
      with rising, triumphant ardor,—
      stirring it into warmth,
      quickening in it a spreading change,—
      bursting wildly against it as
      dividing the horizon, a heavy sun
      lifts himself— is lifted—
      bit by bit above the edge
      of things,—runs free at last
      out into the open — ! lumbering
      glorified in full release upward—
      songs cease.


      In brilliant gas light
      I turn the kitchen spigot
      and watch the water plash
      into the clean white sink.
      On the grooved drain-board
      to one side is
      a glass filled with parsley—
      crisped green.
      for the water to freshen—
      I glance at the spotless floor—:
      a pair of rubber sandals
      lie side by side
      under the wall-table,
      all is in order for the night.
      Waiting, with a glass in my hand
      —three girls in crimson satin
      pass close before me on
      the murmurous background of
      the crowded opera —
      it is
      memory playing the clown—
      three vague, meaningless girls
      full of smells and
      the rustling sound of
      cloth rubbing on cloth and
      little slippers on carpet—
      high-school French
      spoken in a loud voice!
      Parsley in a glass,
      still and shining,
      brings me back. I take my drink
      and yawn deliciously.
      I am ready for bed.


      There's my things
      drying in the corner:
      that blue skirt
      joined to the grey shirt—
      I'm sick of trouble!
      Lift the covers
      if you want me
      and you'll see
      the rest of my clothes—
      though it would be cold
      lying with nothing on!
      I won't work
      and I've got no cash.
      What are you going to do
      about it?
      —and no jewelry
      (the crazy fools)
      But I've my two eyes
      and a smooth face
      and here's this! look!
      it's high!
      There's brains and blood
      in there —
      my name's Robitza!
      can go to the devil —
      and drawers along with them!
      What do I care!
      My two boys?
      —they're keen!
      Let the rich lady
      care for them—
      they'll beat the school
      let them go to the gutter—
      that ends trouble.
      This house is empty
      isn't it?
      Then it's mine
      because I need it.
      Oh, I won't starve
      while there's the Bible
      to make them feed me.
      Try to help me
      if you want trouble
      or leave me alone—
      that ends trouble.
      The county physician
      is a damned fool
      and you
      can go to hell!
      You could have closed the door
      when you came in;
      do it when you go out.
      I'm tired.


      Now? Why—
      whirl-pools of
      orange and purple flame
      feather twists of chrome
      on a green ground
      funneling down upon
      the steaming phallus-head
      of the mad sun himself—
      blackened crimson!
      it is the smile of her
      the smell of her
      the vulgar inviting mouth of her!
      It is—Oh, nothing new
      nothing that lasts
      an eternity, nothing worth
      putting out to interest,
      but the fixing of an eye
      concretely upon emptiness!
      Come! here are—
      cross-eyed men, a boy
      with a patch, men walking
      in their shirts, men in hats
      dark men, a pale man
      with little black moustaches
      and a dirty white coat,
      fat men with pudgy faces,
      thin faces, crooked faces
      slit eyes, grey eyes, black eyes
      old men with dirty beards,
      men in vests with
      gold watch chains. Come!


      Witness, would you—
      one more young man
      in the evening of his love
      hurrying to confession:
      steps down a gutter
      crosses a street
      goes in at a doorway
      opens for you—
      like some great flower—
      a room filled with lamplight;
      or whirls himself
      obediently to
      the curl of a hill
      some wind-dancing afternoon;
      lies for you in
      the futile darkness of
      a wall, sets stars dancing
      to the crack of a leaf—
      and—leaning his head away—
      snuffs (secretly)
      the bitter powder from
      his thumb's hollow,
      takes your blessing and
      goes home to bed?
      Witness instead
      whether you like it or not
      a dark vinegar smelling place
      from which trickles
      the chuckle of
      beginning laughter
      It strikes midnight.


      Oh strong ridged and deeply hollowed
      nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
      What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
      always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
      and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
      poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
      beneath them. With what deep thirst
      we quicken our desires
      to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
      Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
      for something less unlovely? What girl will care
      for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
      Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
      Must you have a part in everything?


      Are you not weary,
      great gold cross
      shining in the wind—
      are you not weary
      of seeing the stars
      turning over you
      and the sun
      going to his rest
      and you frozen with
      a great lie
      that leaves you
      rigid as a knight
      on a marble coffin?
      —and you,
      higher, still,
      untwisting a song
      from the bare
      are you not
      weary of labor,
      even the labor of
      a song?
      Come down—join me
      for I am lonely.
      First it will be
      a quiet pace
      to ease our stiffness
      but as the west yellows
      you will be ready!
      Here in the middle
      of the roadway
      we will fling
      ourselves round
      with dust lilies
      till we are bound in
      their twining stems!
      We will tear
      their flowers
      with arms flashing!
      And when
      the astonished stars
      push aside
      their curtains
      they will see us
      fall exhausted where
      wheels and
      the pounding feet
      of horses
      will crush forth
      our laughter.

      THE OGRE

      Sweet child,
      little girl with well shaped legs
      you cannot touch the thoughts
      I put over and under and around you.
      This is fortunate for they would
      burn you to an ash otherwise.
      Your petals would be quite curled up.
      This is all beyond you —no doubt,
      yet you do feel the brushings
      of the fine needles;
      the tentative lines of your whole body
      prove it to me;
      so does your fear of me,
      your shyness;
      likewise the toy baby cart
      that you are pushing—
      and besides, mother has begun
      to dress your hair in a knot.
      These are my excuses.


      Old men who have studied
      every leg show
      in the city
      Old men cut from touch
      by the perfumed music—
      polished or fleeced skulls
      that stand before
      the whole theater
      in silent attitudes
      of attention,—
      old men who have taken precedence
      over young men
      and even over dark-faced
      husbands whose minds
      are a street with arc-lights.
      Solitary old men for whom
      we find no excuses—
      I bow my head in shame
      for those who malign you.
      Old men
      the peaceful beer of impotence
      be yours!


      If I say I have heard voices
      who will believe me?
      "None has dipped his hand
      in the black waters of the sky
      nor picked the yellow lilies
      that sway on their clear stems
      and no tree has waited
      long enough nor still enough
      to touch fingers with the moon."
      I looked and there were little frogs
      with puffed out throats,
      singing in the slime.


      In a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
      crowded erect with desire against
      the sky—
      tense blue-grey twigs
      slenderly anchoring them down, drawing
      them in —
      two blue-grey birds chasing
      a third struggle in circles, angles,
      swift convergings to a point that bursts
      Vibrant bowing limbs
      pull downward, sucking in the sky
      that bulges from behind, plastering itself
      against them in packed rifts, rock blue
      and dirty orange!
      (Hold hard, rigid jointed trees!)
      the blinding and red-edged sun-blur—
      creeping energy, concentrated
      counterforce—welds sky, buds, trees,
      rivets them in one puckering hold!
      Sticks through! Pulls the whole
      counter-pulling mass upward, to the right,
      locks even the opaque, not yet defined
      ground in a terrific drag that is
      loosening the very tap-roots!
      On a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
      two blue-grey girds, chasing a third,
      at full cry! Now they are
      flung outward and up—disappearing suddenly!


Excerpted from Early Poems by William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1997 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


From Al Que Quiere! (1917),
Danse Russe,
Sub Terra,
Pastoral (When I was younger),
Metric Figure,
Woman Walking,
In Harbor,
Winter Sunset,
Love Song (Daisies are broken),
El Hombre,
Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!,
Love Song (Sweep the house clean),
A Prelude,
Winter Quiet,
Good Night,
Portrait of a Woman in Bed,
Keller Gegen Dom,
The Ogre,
The Old Men,
Pastoral (If I say I have heard voices),
Spring Strains,
A Portrait in Greys,
To a Solitary Disciple,
Dedication for a Plot of Ground,
Love Song (I lie here thinking of you),
From The Tempers (1913),
Peace on Earth,
First Praise,
From "The Birth of Venus," Song,
Mezzo Forte,
An After Song,
Crude Lament,
The Ordeal,
Con Brio,
Ad Infinitum,
Hic Jacet,
To Wish Myself Courage,
From The Dial (August 1920),
Portrait of a Lady,
Spring Storm,
From Poetry (November 1916),
Love Song (What have I to say to you),
Summer Song,
The Old Worshipper,
From The Little Review (January 1920),
To Mark Anthony in Heaven,
From Sour Grapes (1921),
The Widow's Lament in Springtime,
The Late Singer,
A Goodnight,
Overture to a Dance of Locomotives,
The Desolate Field,
Willow Poem,
To Waken an Old Lady,
Winter Trees,
The Cold Night,
The Poor,
Complete Destruction,
The Thinker,
The Lonely Street,
The Great Figure,
Portrait of the Author,

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