William Carlos Williams

                                PASTORAL

                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 yeards 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.

 

from Al Que Quiere!, 1917

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                      PASTORAL

                The little sparrows
                hop ingenuously
                about the pavement
                quarreling
                with sharp voices
                over those things
                that interest them.
                But we who are wiser
                shut ourselves in
                on either hand
                and no one knows
                whether we think good
                or evil.
                      Meanwhile,
                the old man who goes about
                gathering dog-lime
                walks in the gutter
                without looking up
                as his tread
                is more majestic than
                that of the Episcopal minister
                approaching the pulpit
                of a Sunday.
                      These things
                astonish me beyond words.

 

from ‘Al Que Quiere’, 1917

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                      EL HOMBRE

                It’s a strange courage
                you give me ancient star:

                Shine alone in the sunrise
                toward which you lend no part!

 

from Al Que Quiere!, 1917

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                                SUMMER SONG

                Wanderer moon
                smiling a
                faintly ironical smile
                at this
                brilliant, dew-moistened
                summer morning,–
                a detached
                sleepily indifferent
                smile, a
                wanderer’s smile,–
                if I should
                buy a shirt
                your color and
                put on a necktie
                sky-blue
                where would they carry me?

 

from Al Que Quiere, 1917

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                      LOVE SONG

                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.

 

from Al Que Quiere! 1917

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                                DANSE RUSSE

                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
                dance naked, grotesquely
                before my mirror
                waving my shirt round my head
                and singing softly to myself:
                “I am lonelt, lonely.
                I was born to be lonely,
                I am best so!”
                If I admire my arms, flanks, buttocks
                against the yellow drawn shades,–

                Who shall say I am not
                the happy genius of my household?

 

from Al Que Quiere, 1917

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                                SPRING STRAINS

                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
                instantly!

                            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!

                                                                                But–
                (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 birds, chasing a third,
                at full cry! Now they are
                flung outward and up – disappearing suddenly!

 

from Al Que Quiere, 1917

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                                TREES

                Crooked, black tree
                on your little grey-black hillock,
                ridiculously raised one step toward
                the infinite summits of the night:
                even you the few grey stars
                draw upward into a vague melody
                of harsh threads.

                Bent as you are from straining
                against the bitter horizontals of
                a north wind,–there below you
                how easily the long yellow notes
                of poplars flow upward in a descending
                scale, each note secure in its own
                posture–singularly woven.

                All voices are blent willingly
                against the heaving contra-bass
                of the dark but you alone
                warp yourself passionately to one side
                in your eagerness.

 

from Al Que Quiere! 1917

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                     TO A SOLITARY DISCIPLE

                Rather notice, mon cher,
                that the moon is
                tilted above
                the point of the steeple
                than that its color
                is shell-pink.

                Rather observe
                that it is early morning
                than that the sky
                is smooth
                as a turquoise.

                Rather grasp
                how the dark
                converging lines
                of the steeple
                meet at the pinnacle–
                perceive how
                its little ornament
                tries to stop them–

                See how it fails!
                See how the converging lines
                of the hexagonal spire
                escape upward–
                receding, dividing!
                –sepals
                that guard and contain
                the flower!

                Observe
                how motionless
                the eaten moon
                lies in the protecting lines.

                It is true:
                in the light colors
                of morning
                brown-stone and slate
                shine orange and dark blue.

                But observe
                the oppressive weight
                of the squat edifice!
                Observe
                the jasmine lightness
                of the moon.

 

from Al Que Quiere! 1917

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                THE DESOLATE FIELD

                Vast and grey, the sky
                in 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 amazed my heart leaps
                at the thought of love
                vast and grey
                yearning silently over me.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                   JANUARY

                Again I reply to the triple winds
                running chromatic fifths of derision
                outside my window:
                                                     Play louder.
                You will not succeed. I am
                bound more to my sentences
                the more you batter at me
                to follow you.
                                         And the wind,
                as before, fingers perfectly
                its derisive music.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                THURSDAY

                I have had my dream–like others–
                and it has come to nothing, so that
                I remain now carelessly
                with feet planted on the ground
                and look up at the sky–
                feeling my clothes around me,
                the weight of my body in my shoes,
                the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
                at my nose–and decide to dream no more.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                SPRING

                O my grey hairs!
                You are truly white as plum blossoms.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                LINES

                Leaves are greygreen,
                the glass broken, bright green.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                BLUEFLAGS

                I stopped the car
                to let the children down
                where the streets end
                in the sun
                at the marsh edge
                and the reeds begin
                and there are small houses
                facing the reeds
                and the blue mist
                in the distance
                with grapevine trellises
                with grape clusters
                small as strawberries
                on the vines
                and ditches
                running springwater
                that continue the gutters
                with willows over them.
                The reeds begin
                like water at a shore
                their pointed petals waving
                dark green and light.
                But blueflags are blossoming
                in the reeds
                which the children pluck
                chattering in the reeds
                high over their heads
                which they part
                with bare arms to appear
                with fists of flowers
                till in the air
                there comes the smell
                of calamus
                from wet, gummy stalks.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                LIGHT HEARTED WILLIAM

                Light hearted William twirled
                his November moustaches
                and, half dressed, looked
                from the bedroom window
                upon the spring weather.

                Height-ya! sighed he gaily
                leaning out to see
                up and down the street
                where a heavy sunlight
                lay beyond some blue shadows.

                Into the room he drew
                his head again and laughed
                to himself quietly
                twirling his green moustaches.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                THE LONELY STREET

                School is over. It is too hot
                to walk at ease. At ease
                in light frocks they walk the streets
                to while the time away.
                They have grown tall. They hold
                pink flames in their right hands.
                In white from head to foot,
                with sidelong, idle look–
                in yellow, floating stuff,
                black sash and stockings–
                touching their avid mouths
                with pink sugar on a stick–
                like a carnation each holds in her hand–
                they mount the lonely street.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                THE GREAT FIGURE

                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.

 

from Sour Grapes, 1921

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                                SPRING AND ALL

                By the road to the contagious hospital
                under the surge of the blue
                mottled clouds driven from the
                northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the
                waste of broad, muddy fields
                brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

                patches of standing water
                the scattering of tall trees

                All along the road the reddish
                purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
                stuff of bushes and small trees
                with dead, brown leaves under them
                leafless vines –

                Lifeless in appearence, sluggish
                dazed spring approaches –

                They enter the new world naked,
                cold, uncertain of all
                save that they enter. All about them
                the cold, familiar wind –

                Now the grass, tomorrow
                the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

                One by one objects are defined –
                It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

                But now the stark dignity of
                entrance – Still, the profound change
                had come upon them: rooted, they
                grip down and begin to awaken

from Spring and All, 1923

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                VI

                No that is not it
                nothing that I have done
                nothing
                I have done

                is made up of
                nothing
                and the dipthong

                ae

                together with
                the first person
                singular
                indicative

                of the auxiliary
                verb
                to have

                everything
                I have done
                is the same

                if to do
                is capable
                of an
                infinity of
                combinations

                involving the
                moral
                physical
                and religious

                codes

                for everything
                and nothing
                are synonymous
                when

                energy in vacuo
                has the power
                of confusion

                which only to
                have done nothing
                can make
                perfect

 

from Spring and All, 1923

~~~ “WCW” ~~~

                XI

                In passing with my mind
                on nothing in the world

                but the right of way
                I enjoy on the road by

                virtue of the law–
                I saw

                an elderly man who
                smiled and looked away

                to the north past a house–
                a woman in blue

                who was laughing and
                leaning forward to look up

                into the man’s half
                averted face

                and a boy of eight who was
                looking at the middle of

                the man’s belly
                at a watchchain–

                The supreme importance
                of this nameless spectacle

                sped me by them
                without a word–

                Why bother where I went?
                for I went spinning on the

                four wheels of my car
                along the wet road until

                I saw a girl with one leg
                over the rail of a balcony

 

from Spring and All, 1923

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                so much depends
                upon

                a red wheel
                barrow

                glazed with rain
                water

                beside the white
                chickens

from Spring and All, 1923

~~~ “WCW” ~~~

                                YOUNG SYCAMORE

                I must tell you
                this younf tree
                whose round and firm trunk
                between the wet

                pavement and the gutter
                (where water
                is trickling) rises
                bodily

                into the air with
                one undulant
                thrust half its height–
                and then

                dividing and waning
                sending out
                young branches on
                all sides–

                hung with cocoons–
                it thins
                till nothing is left of it
                but two

                eccentric knotted
                twigs
                bending forward
                hornlike at the top

 

from Poems, 1927

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