Two Poems by William Carlos Williams – An Analysis

Before we begin the analysis, a piece of good news. One of my poems will be featured in The Alipore Post in December-January! I was so happy to receive the acceptance today morning. It did make up for the bad day that today is turning out to be.

Today, we are going to look at two poems by that modernist giant Williams Carlos Williams. From his collection Al Que Quiere!, the poem “Spring Strains” and the poem “Dance Russe”. Both these poems are somewhat erotic, the first set in a natural setting with flowers, the sky and birds and the latter in a suburban, very human setting. They also share the element of dance, which is interpreted differently in both.

“Spring Strains” is formally haphazard, 29 lines long and set in 5 stanzas of varying lengths. I am not usually a fan of nature poetry but when Williams does it, he does it with a twist. In this poem the word “strains” in the title says it all. This poem is a tug of war for the “blue-grey buds” on the “blue-grey twigs” to stay against the wind struggling to whip them across to the air against the sky. This scene is portrayed very erotically by Williams, who uses phrases such as “erect with desire”, “slenderly anchoring”, “drawing them in” and “bursts instantly” in the first two stanzas. The buds are being pulled in the wind current, upward, in a “terrific drag”. The poem itself conveys the strain using appropriate verbs like I mentioned above. In the end, the very “tap-roots” are loosened and the buds are “flung outward and up”.

Although it is a poem set in nature, which usually conveys order and neatness, this poem is all about the disintegration of order, the loss of normalcy, anarchy. Its a poem that reminds me of Byron, for some reason, and does in fact smell more Romantic than modernist. The counter to this would be the one phrase that Williams uses in the fourth stanza. He says “counter-pulling mass upward”, as if he is a physicist, as if the buds are defying gravity. Contextualized in his ideas of poetry as a field of action, and his awareness of the effect of Einstein’s theory of relativity on poetry, I do think this phrase was loaded with meaning. Apart from that singular piece of evidence, this poem leans more towards Romanticism than modernism.

The next poem “Dance Russe” is one of my favorites, by Williams. The title hints at an Avant Garde Russian form of dance, something akin to ballet. However, the images in the poem is that of a poet dancing naked in his study while his wife, child and the nanny take a nap. The poet figure asks something like if anyone sees me like this now, who will not say that I am the happy genius of my household? The poem ends there. It is an immemorable scene, that of a suburban family man, a pediatrician in Rutherford, New Jersey, dancing wildly singing about loneliness, claiming his title of the “happy genius”. The word “genius” here is meant in the sense of “creator” or originator, rather than the now conventional meaning of the word.

This is not the only suburban poem written by Williams. He has delved into the suburban loneliness, the tug of war between the wild uncivilized impulses of man, and the imposed social order of the suburbs. This dynamic is interesting and Williams, as someone who experienced it, has captured it in poetry. The poem is also significant in its oblique reference to shadow play, as if the poet himself is a puppet rather than someone enacting his wild impulses. Its a poem that raises many questions.

I am fascinated by the poetry of Williams and will probably return to examine more of it in the coming days. And that’s it for today.

Here are the links to the poems discussed here, and you can leave your comments down below. Have a good day and stay safe!

Spring Strains by William Carlos Williams: http://www.poetry-archive.com/w/spring_strains.html

Dance Russe by William Carlos Williams: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46483/danse-russe

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Athira Unni

ATHIRA UNNI writes, among other things, such as pursuing the perfect amount of sugar to put in her tea. . Her poetry has been published by NAME, Generation Magazine, Brev Spread, Madras Courier, The Sunflower Collective, The Little Rose Magazine, Sheila-Na-Gig Under 30 and Delhi Poetry Slam.

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