William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

About William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) was an American poet, translator, literary critic and novelist. He is one of the great representatives of American modernism, participating in the movements of imagism and objectivism of which he is one of the founding members. Williams' first attempts at poetry written in college, were allegedly unsuccessful and were supposed to be imitative and of dubious quality. Nevertheless, along with systematic work and constant self-education, he gradually crystallized his own, characteristic poetics. Modernism and imagism are mentioned as the main currents inspiring the mature work of Williams. The first volume he self-published at Rutherford was Poems in 1909. At the beginning of his literary career, he was strongly associated (under the influence of Pound) with the imagist movement and the New York avant-garde milieu, which included, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Wallace Stevens, and Alfred Kreymborg. The first volumes of Williams poetry are not too strongly marked by his specific style, known as mature poems. The book Spring and All, published in 1923, turned out to be a breakthrough, being a collection of alternating poetic and prose fragments. The experimental phase of the poet's work reached its culmination then, and its effect was the development of an individual character of his work. It is in this volume that one of Williams's most famous poems, The Red Wheelbarrow, is published.
Despite widespread recognition among the literary circles of the 1920s and 1930s, the writer was not yet well known to the general readership. Only in 1937, after establishing cooperation with the New Directions publishing house (established on Pound's initiative), Williams' work slowly began to take a place in the canon of contemporary literature. The growing popularity of his poetry made him a guide for the coming literary generations, inspiring writers as diverse as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell. He gained recognition after the Second World War, with his poems Paterson, The Great Figure, Asphodel That Greeny Flower and The Red Wheelbarrow which is an example of the Imagist movement's style. He then became a major reference for the writers of the Beat Generation, but also for the New York School and the San Francisco Renaissance. In 1963, he posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for Paintings after Breughel and other poems (1962) and the gold medal for poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Williams is also the author of several plays, three novels, and two volumes of literary-critical essays.
His poetry is built in opposition to that of T. S. Eliot and seeks to present objects for their own value and not from a metaphysical perspective. It is also for him to report on the American experience, while many modernist writers are exiled in Europe. Williams considered capturing the essence of the American language as a programmatic point. It was to be an everyday language, direct and devoid of many words, a poetic expression based on authentically American lexicon, striving for concreteness, to restore the subject to its full and symbolic meaning. Williams followed this principle consistently in his poetry. The themes of Williams works (despite their diversity) strongly corresponded with this assumption. The poet devotes a lot of space to his personal, everyday experience and observations. Many of Williams poems were thus portraits of everyday America, in its - above all - very special aspects. An important aspect of poetry for Williams was its metric, especially in the context of notation. He is the author of the concept of the so-called triadic-line poetry, in which individual sentences are divided into three parts (separately constituting specific metric feet), each in a separate line, which together form a trimeter. In this way, the poet retains the natural melody of the utterance, at the same time not breaking the formal issues of notation. He then made his own the concept of variable metrics, a concept rooted in the very structure of the American idiom. This discovery was the fruit of his tenacious and careful observation of how and to what extent radio and newspapers affected the way people communicated with each other. Williams almost never used traditional meter in his poems.
Williams was also a pediatrician and general practitioner, professions which probably influenced the choice of subjects for his poetry. His biographer Linda Wagner-Martin notes that He worked as hard to become a writer as he did in his profession as a doctor. This is why maybe Williams' work often fails to be analyzed within traditional ideological discourses because it rarely contains such considerations. Nevertheless, his work is thoroughly democratic: it is open, legible, based on visible concreteness, avoiding ideological speculations. Compared to him, Pound or Stevens, not to mention Eliot, are aristocrats of the pen, seeking their own expression in completely different areas. He was associated with the Passaic General Hospital, where he served as chief of the hospital's pediatrics from 1924 until his death. The hospital, which is now known as St. Mary's Hospital, honored Williams with a plaque that read: [We walk the wards Williams walked].
Politically, the Democracy of Williams' poetry is also felt through his keen interest in specific people, in particular his own patients, whose suffering he sometimes showed in his works. He spent most of his adult life combining his work as a doctor with writing. This is why also Modern Democrats portray him as close to their ideas. He is widely published in politically radical journals, such as Blast and New Masses. He considered himself a socialist and opposed to capitalism. He published several poems reflecting social and political concerns, such as The Yachts, which portrayed the wealthy elite as parasitic and the masses as hoping for a revolution. Other poems, such as Death, Proletarian Portrait and Late for Summer Weather, are inspired by the Great Depression. Similarly, in the introduction to his poetry collection The Wedge, published in 1944, he describes socialism as an inevitable state of development, and a necessity for true artistic development. This political position caused him many problems especially after the publication of the poem The Pink Church in 1948, which dealt with the human body, but understood in the context of McCarthyism, as dangerously pro-communist. The same year he suffered a heart attack, after 1949 he experienced several more heart attacks. Anti-Communists caused his dismissal from his position as adviser to the Library of Congress in 1952/3, which made him depressed. He was treated for depression after one such stroke caused him to be confined to Hillside Hospital, New York, for four months in 1953. As he shows in an unpublished article written for Blast, Williams believed that artists should resist producing propaganda and devote themselves to writing. In the same article, he proclaims that art can also be at the service of the proletariat.
Williams died on March 4, 1963, at age 79 at his home in Rutherford. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

Browse all poems and texts published on William Carlos Williams
Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of angels.

William Carlos Williams Poems

Syndicate content

Popular Poets of All Time

  • Robert Frost
    Robert Frost
    was an American poet.
  • Maya Angelou
    Maya Angelou
    was an African-American poet.
  • Pablo Neruda
    Pablo Neruda
    Nobel prize chilean poet.