Hello. Let us discuss Williams Carlos Williams now in this lecture. He was born in 1883 and
died in 1963. He was a notable contemporary of Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, T.S. Elliot
and many others, especially Pound. We willsee the historical and literary context, his own
life. Then we will pay attention to a talk that he gave at the University of Washington. Read
three of his poems, they are very short poems. So, we will read three of them, analyse them
and then conclude.
(Refer Slide Time: 00:54)
When we come to William Carlos Williams, let us add another point about the literary
historical context. There was a show called The Armory Show which began in 1913 in New
York, this is basically an Art Exhibition. Artist from America and artist from Europe had all
assembled and displayed their art products. Many of the artists from Europe made a great
impression on American creative scene and that impacted the whole of American poetry and
other art forms.
We have of course, the first world war, the second world war and the Great Depression. We
have popular poets like E A Robinson and Robert Frost during this time. We have two groups
of imagist poets which are found in Pound, Hilda Doolittle and Marianne Moore. They are
the leaders of the imagist movement.
But we have two groups of poets in America. One group can be called Anti Romantic poets;
another can be called Romantic poets. These Anti Romantic poets were influenced by Elliot;
they are JC Ransom, Donald Davidson and Allen Tate. Let us recall the fugitive poets, most
of them come here like Ransom and Allen Tate.
Then we have Romantic poets, these were opposed to Eliot, in technique, in theme, in
attitude, outlook, in language, everything they were opposed to Eliot. We have the second
group in Romantic poets who were opposed to Eliot, they are Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens
and William Carlos Williams.
(Refer Slide Time: 02:42)
Let us see the life of William now. He was basically a medical doctor by profession and a
poet by choice. He wrote poetry throughout his life, he also practiced medicine throughout
his life. Initially, he was influenced by imagism and Ezra Pound. Later on, he was drawn to
objectivism and Louis Zukofsky. His credo was “No ideas but in things.”
Further, we have his opinion on poem as “a little machine made out of words.” His poetry is
characterized by a pictorial quality, fragmented and loosely associated verse forms and local
subject matter. Three important points we have to remember about Williams, they are the
pictorial quality, free verse, loosely associated verse forms and local subject matter.
He dealt with the ordinary events, objects and people. He also wrote an epic poem, Paterson
in five volumes from 1946 to 1958. He happened to edit a journal called Contact with his
colleague, Robert McAlmon. His well-known poems are found in the collection called
“Spring and Fall,” published in 1923.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:03)
Williams gave a talk on ‘the poem as a field of action’ at the University of Washington in
1948. The major crux of this talk was a discussion on a distinct style of American poetry.
How could one achieve that? He emphasized the incorporation of American subject and
speech. He gave more importance to the speech pattern of the common American people. The
subject matter of the poem according to him is fantasy. Similarly, the reality of the poem is
To quote a sentence from this talk,
“the poet was not an owner, he was not a money man – he was
still only a poet; a wisher; a word man. The best of all to
my way of thinking! Words are the keys that
unlock the mind.”
We can understand why language is important, why poetry is important from this statement,
‘words are the keys that unlock the mind.’
We have unravelled the secrets of nature in so many ways, but we are unable to unlock,
unravel our own human mind, yet, that is why these words are important for us, or poems are
important for us. William says there is something more in the structure of the poem, in its
arrangement of words and rhythms on the pages as a field of action. The poetic page, the
poem, itself is a field of action like any other action that we may have in nature, at home,
(Refer Slide Time: 05:47)
Let us see the first poem from William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one of the most popular
poems in American literature. Just a small poem in eight lines, sixteen words,four couplets,
two lines each, three words, one word that is how line arrangements are there. Just two
adjectives, nothing more.
Let us read the poem now.
“So much depends 16 words
upon Four couplets
a red wheel Two lines each
barrow Three words
glazed with rain One word
water Two Adjectives
beside the white
It is almost a single sentence. There is no punctuation mark anything like that, even the f irst
line begins with a lower case ‘so’ and then at the end of course, we have fullstop. There is an
image of the red wheel barrow, that is it, nothing else. Where is it? How is it? That is, it.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:50)
Within this short poem, we have so much of thematic contrast between everything and
nothing, so much depends, then there is also nothing, dependence and independence, wet and
dry, smooth and rough, white and black, red and colourless, tools.This red wheel barrow is
actually a tool, a one wheeled small kind of mechanism which is used in construction
We can also say this red wheeled barrow, wheeled barrow or wheeled tool and unwheeled
tool, that kind of contrast also we can see. Then, manmade tool and natural rains and
chickens, then quietness and noise. This is the kind of context image that the small poem
evokes in us.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:44)
Within this small poem, we willsee this image, dominant image of this ‘red wheel barrow,’ it
is a tool, construction tool, it is a moving kind of instrument which is used to carry objects
from one place to another for the purpose of construction. This is a symbol of human
civilization and growth. Without wheel, human civilization would not have grown to this
extent, and that too, in construction. Civilization is closely associated with construction of
homes, construction of buildings, construction of so many other things.
And then, we willsee that, this poem is totally in contrast to the poems that we have read so
far. We do not have much of metaphors, similes, assonance, consonance and many other
things that we will find in other poems. So, we pay attention to the tone that is why Williams
paid attention to the common speech patterns of American people.
The tone is conversational, the attitude is causal and informal. The syntax is very simple, just
one sentence without any complicated words, they are common words that is why the diction
is also simple. Then, the register is a kind of rural environment because of the presence of
chickens. Then the structure is also interesting because of four stanzas of two lines each with
an alternation of three words and one word.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:16)
Obviously, we do not have any rhyme in this poem, and also, we do not have much
repetition. No word is repeated suggesting the uniqueness of the red wheelbarrow. Of course,
we have this repetitive structure of the same in the whole poem. The rhythm is a variation of
iamb and trochee. Mostly what we have in this poem is a monometer or di meter, because
single word and more than one word in a line. That is four syllables and two feet or two
syllables and one foot.
Let us read these four lines again:
“So much depends
a red wheel
The enjambment is found throughout the poem. Every line is enjambed. That is the kind of
innovation that Williams brought about in American poetry. Such a short poem has given
scope for lot of interpretations.
(Refer Slide Time: 10:19)
Let us give our own impression. The speaker describes a red wheelbarrow in a rainwater
drenched condition lying quietly. He does not reveal what exactly depends on the barrow.
Readers can speculate the meaning of the poem in their own ways. The poet perhaps wants us
just look at the picture closely. The observation itself is a process of discovering the object as
it is in its own location.
When we pay attention minutely, probably we become the object, natural or manufactured.
This meaning out of our own self and looking atsomething else, and becoming one with that,
maybe a kind of force that is acting on the field, at home or anywhere else.
(Refer Slide Time: 11:11)
Here is another short poem again well known, popular throughout American culture. “This is
Just to Say.” Earlier, so much depends on, now, this is Just to Say; 28 words, three stanzas,
four lines each, we have alternation between two words, three words and one word, just three
So, Williams does not pay any attention to descriptive nature of the poem, rather, he gives the
object directly to us, as few words as possible let us read the poem now.
“I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.”
The situation is a home context, husband and wife. The wife is absent, the husband comes
home and eats the plums from the ice box. Something like a fridge or the prototype of a
fridge and he feels sorry about it. Just expresses it. And also, he expresses his satisfaction of
having tasted the plums.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:38)
Within this poem, we have so much of thematic contrast, sin and forgiveness. Because the
speaker has taken the plums without the permission or without the knowledge of his partner.
Sin and forgiveness, crime and confession, aggression and apology, I and you, dinner and
breakfast, sweet and bitter, cold and warm, delicious and unpalatable, scarcity and plenty;
probably he wrote this poem on a piece of paper that is called a sticky note and then this note
itself has become a poem.
That is exactly Williams. Very ordinary things, very ordinary events, ordinary happenings.
He has made several poems out of them. Patterson is full of such many ordinary things about
American people, American events.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:29)
Here again, let us see some poetic devices. Symbol, we find in plums maybe these plums are
objects of temptation. The tone is conversational and the attitude is casual and informal. The
syntax is somewhat complex. Because it uses relative classes in that which we can say it is
complex but then it is easy to follow.
However, the words are very common words, and the situation is domestic, that is why the
words are associated with a household, that is why we say that the register is domestic. There
is no punctuation mark at all, only two words are capitalized, ‘I’ and ‘forgive.’ And the whole
poem is presented to as in just three stanzas.
(Refer Slide Time: 14:22)
Now, let us see rhyme, rhythm and meter. We do not have much of rhyme in this poem, but
the part of speech, adjective alone is repeated, though the individual word is not repeated. So,
we have delicious, sweet and cold. These three words are found, that means three times
Williams has used adjectives in this poem. Similarly, we have the repetition of adverb, and
so, the emphasis is on “so” ‘so tasty, so sweet.’
Then we can say that the rhythm is very common iamb rhythm in this poem, again we have
only mono meter and di meter:
“I have eaten
that were in
the ice box
that is actually in the next stanza. Enjambment is present throughout the poem that is why we
say it is full of enjambment.
We have four syllables in one line making up two feet and sometimes we have three syllables
that means, we will have more than one foot, but for the sake of analysis we would say it is
just one foot.
(Refer Slide Time: 15:36)
Again, this short poem has so much to convey to us;so much depends on the reader, using
Williams poem The Red Wheelbarrow, we can say so much depends on the reader and his or
her perception of the poem. To give an overall impression of this poem, let us look at these
The speaker declares that he has eaten the plums from the icebox and expresses his
satisfaction that it is tasty, though he is aware that his partner may have kept the plums for
her own breakfast. The speaker’s casual attitude and informal tone is the heart of the poem
which points to how people are easily tempted by something very attractive.
The speaker is aware of the feeling of the absent partner but feels helpless due to scarcity of
plums or other food items due to the general crisis of the Great Depression during which the
poem was written. We are human enough to pay attention to ourselves disregarding the needs
Williams was a doctor who served his patients tirelessly, disregarding himself, but at home,
when he was hungry, he had to disregard his own wife’s needs, that is life.
(Refer Slide Time: 17:00)
Now, let us come to the last poem, “Between Walls.” This poem has 22 words, five couplets,
two lines each, three words, two words, one-word alternation we have. We have three
adjectives and three verbs, which we have underlined and highlighted.
Let us read the poem now.
“the back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
(Refer Slide Time: 17:44)
Again, we have lot of thematic contrast in this short poem. Front and back, hospital and
desert or forest, grow and decay, cinders and plants, nothing and everything, shine and
darken, broken and whole, green and pale or white, bottle and gourd, that is something like a
vegetable or fruit or tree or plant as opposed to this manmade bottle.
(Refer Slide Time: 18:11)
We have primary symbols in this poem. Hospitals, cinders and bottle for human activities.
The tone is conversational; the attitude is causal and informal. The syntax is of course
complex because it deals with a complex situation. Then we have common words and the
register is medical because it is located in the context of a hospital. Punctuation there is none
and we have five couplets, five two lines in this poem.
We see three contexts in these three poems. ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ ‘Outside the Home,’
‘This is Just to Say’ inside the home and then now, ‘Between Walls’ in a hospital.
(Refer Slide Time: 18:56)
When we come to rhyme, rhythm and meter, we see that there is no rhyme scheme in this
poem, the rhythm of this poem is iamb as we see in the back expression, but it varies f rom
line to line. On the whole we have two syllables and four syllables base lines in this poem, so,
we can say one foot and two feet, that is how we find in this poem. So, we can say mono
meter or di meter. Again, the whole poem is full of enjambment. Enjambment is found
throughout the poem.
“The back wings
hospi tal where
so, it goes on like this.
(Refer Slide Time: 19:44)
To give an overall impression of the poem, we can say the poet observes a broken bottle in
pieces in the back wings of the hospital where cinders lie and where nothing will grow. While
the poet draws the reader’s attention to the broken pieces of the bottle, perhaps he also
records the culture of throwing bottles on cinders, which will break the bottle into pieces.
The phrase “broken pieces” is divided to actually show the bottle and perhaps words in
pieces. The poet comments on the American culture of waste generation, especially in
(Refer Slide Time: 20:26)
To give a summary of our presentation on William Carlos Williams and his three poems, we
can say we paid attention to the historical and literary context in which William Carlos
Williams wrote his poem. He was a doctor but then he was able to write poems, he was able
to find time for writing poems on any piece of paper that he found, including this sticky note.
His concept of a poem is A Field of Action, there is some action always, he was always in
action in the field, at home, in hospital, everywhere.Itseems that he has delivered more than
2000 babies in his lifetime. And with this kind of experience, particularly, when he dealt with
patients, terminal patients, his experience would have been really fantastic and extensive.
And with this, he observed life very closely and he has given his observations in short poems.
With his vast experience, he has observed life and presented his observationsin the 3 poems
we have discussed: ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ ‘This is Just to Say’ and ‘Between Walls.’ We
analysed the poems and gave our overall impression of the poems and the poet.
He is a truly great American poet in the tradition of Whitman, who went round the country to
see the people. In this case, Williams lived in one particular place,Rutherford and he worked
as a doctor; doctor of people, both mental and physical.
(Refer Slide Time: 22:04)
Let us see the references now. Here are some references. These short poems are interesting
for stylistic, linguistic analysis. So, we have many articles on these poems, on many other
poems of Williams. We can see how words are put together, how words come together in a
field of action to convey meanings. This is just to say, thank you!Hello. Welcome to this lecture on Archie Randolph Ammons and his poem, “Corsons Inlet.”
When a poet and a tree come together, we have poetry. This is a point that we refer to in our
introductory video. A. R. Ammons is an amazing poet, on whose poetry, I did my PHD. So,
there is some personal connection with this poet for me. He has been a source of inspiration
for me in many ways.
Let us see the historical and literary context, see the life of Ammons briefly and then discuss
his talk on “A Poem is a Walk,” briefly to understand the connection between a poem and a
walk. Then, read some selected passages from this poem, Corsons Inlet offer our own
linguistic and rhetorical analysis. Thereafter, we will have a syntactical analysis of a special
line from this poem and then discuss how some kind of paradoxical reconciliation takes place
in this poem, which is important for all of poetry.
(Refer Slide Time: 01:32)
Here is a historical and literary context. In the early 20th century, poets had to travel to
Europe to establish themselves as poets. The two world wars did not help poets much or
poetry much. Many other concerns were there. More than poetry, people had to struggle f or
so many other things. In addition to these world wars, we have the Economic Depression of
1929 which affected everybody’slife in the US, including little magazines which had to close
The modernist poetry of Pound, Elliot, Hilda Doolittle and many others published in small
magazines did not reach the whole of America. So, poets had to struggle to establish
themselves. A R Ammons who was born in Whiteville, a place in North Carolina, too, had to
work hard as a school principal and then as a business executive in a glass factory before
finding a comfortable position as a professor of poetry at Cornell University in 1965. Later
on, he went onto win almost all prizes for poetry in the US.
(Refer Slide Time: 02:54)
A R Ammons was born in 1926, just before this Economic Depression and then died in 2001.
This Great Depression had affected Ammons’ own life individually. They were living in a
farm and during this period, they had next to nothing to survive. They had to go through lot
of difficulties in their life. Later on, when he had a chance to participate in the second world
war, he went there. And when he was serving in the Navy, he had an enlightenment which is
something great. Who actually makes the distinction between land and water? He was
watching the waves reaching the shore and coming back, who made this distinction? Is it God
or something else?
That is how he got interest in this creation stories. How did the world come into existence?
He read widely about creation stories in the West and also in the East. And when he went to
Wake Forest college, which is now a university. He majored in science and studied as much
as he could on his own. When he explored the eastern tradition, he f ound Lao Tzu and his
philosophy that Lao to be close to his heard.
In Lao’s philosophy, we have water as a greatsymbol of humility. The reason is water will
never go up; it will always flow down. And also, he found something special about the
importance of silence in Lao Tzu. Silence is considered to be eloquence in Lao’s philosophy.
He was, right from the beginning, ever since he got to read poetry, and start writing poetry,
he was interested in poetry, he was devoted to poetry, from some kind of inner compulsion.
That is why, in many of his interviews, he would say, if you want to write poetry, do it
carefully. If you have nothing else to do, write poetry. If you have something else to do, do
not write poetry. That is his advice for many young poets of his times.
Later on, he became a distinguished professor of poetry at Cornell University. And then a
distinct voice of American poetry. Throughout his life time, he was promoted by Harold
Bloom, the most influential American critique of 20th century as an Emersonian, Whitmanian,
Transcendental American poet.
(Refer Slide Time: 05:35)
He gave a talk on “A Poem is a Walk” to a group of writers. It is brief talk published in a
magazine later on, the title of the talk is “A Poem is a Walk.” He compares a poem with a
walk and identifies four characteristics of these two actions.Both a piece of poem and a walk
involve the whole person. Both cannot be reproduced.Both take a shape which occurs and
then unfolds.Both have a motion characteristic of the walker and the writer. Both walks and
poems are, for Ammons, useless, meaningless and non rational.
So, he says, ‘poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and
returns as to our rational, structured selves refreshed.’ Writing poetry or walking is a kind of
journey into our unconscious, or unstructured sources of our own beings. Something
unknown, something mysterious. That is how Ammons was drawn to this mysterious and
then he would come back and feel refreshed. Whoever reads his poetry would feel the same
and then he quotes this line from Lao Tzu, ‘nothing that can be said in words is worth
saying.’ He always distrusted words, language. That is why he took interest in painting.
Whatever he could not express in words, he would always paint. So, this man, this poet who
did not have faith in words wrote volumes and volumes of poetry throughout his life.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:30)
Let us see this poem on “Corsons Inlet.” Actually, it is a place in New Jersey, often used for
walking. Ammons gave this original title: A Nature Walk. This is one of the most
anthologized poems of Ammons. It has something like 128 irregular lines in free verse. It
records the events of a day during his walk.
This poem offers a vision of no fixed vision. That is inconclusive vision. That is what we find
in this poem. We have a picture of the place “Corons Inlet,” we have Atlantic Ocean and the
land coming together and then, we have this Inlet with various shapes, sizes, changing
according to seasons.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:25)
Let us read some selected passages from this poem:
“I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning
to the sea,
then turned right along
rounded a naked headland
along the inlet shore;
it was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high,
crisp in the running sand,
some breakthroughs of sun
but after a bit/continuous overcast.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:57)
“The walk liberating, I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
I allow myself eddies of meaning:
yield to a direction of significance
like a stream through the geography of my work:
(Refer Slide Time: 09:19)
but Overall is beyond me: is the sum of these events
I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting
beyond the account:
in nature there are few sharp lines: there are areas of
more or less dispersed;
disorderly orders of bayberry’ between the rows
irregular swamps of reeds, [irregular lines of verse]
though not reeds alone, but grass, bayberry, yarrow, all,
When Ammons says irregular swamps of reeds, we can also notice irregular lines of verse in
(Refer Slide Time: 10:00)
“I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
from outside: I have
drawn no lines:
manifold events of sand
change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
so I am willing to go along, to accept
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish
(Refer Slide Time: 10:31)
“risk is full: every living thing in
siege: the demand is life, to keep life: the small
white blacklegged egret, how beautiful, quietly stalks and spears
the shallows, darts to shore
to stab, what? ....
the news to my left over the dunes and
reeds and bayberry clumps was
fall: thousands of tree swallows
gathering for flight:
an order held
in constant change: a congregation
rich with entropy:
(Refer Slide Time: 11:07)
“in the smaller view, order tight with shape:
blue tiny flowers on a leafless weed: carapace of crab:
pulsations of order
in the bellies of minnows: orders swallowed,
broken down, transferred through membranes
to strengthen larger orders: but in the large view, no
lines or changeless shapes: the working in and out,
and against, of millions of events: this,
so that I make
no form of
Ammons offers two kinds of views; in the smaller view and in the larger view; the
microscopic view and the macroscopic view of this form of formlessness. And he claims that
he makes no form of formlessness.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:01)
“no arranged terror: no forcing of image, plan,
no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept:
terror pervades but is not arranged, all possibilities
of escape open: no route shut, except in
the sudden loss of all routes:
(Refer Slide Time: 12:23)
I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will
not run to that easy victory:
still around the looser, wider forces work:
I will try
to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disordered,
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.”
The last line ‘tomorrow a new walk is a new walk’ is one of the most famous lines in
American poetry now. This is a kind of inconclusive conclusion that he arrived at, at the end
of his poem “CorsonsInlet,” with this irregular form, free verse, irregular thought processes,
the actual shape of “Corsons Inlet.”
(Refer Slide Time: 13:22)
Let us see the thematic contrast between one and many, form and formlessness, mind and
nature or mind and reality, order and disorder, beauty and terror, serenity and restlessness,
synthesis and analysis, change and constant, freedom and restriction, flexibility and rigidity,
walking and seeing on the one hand and thinking on the other hand.
The poet walks on Corsons Inlet, and then, as he walks, his thoughts starts imagining and
then he gets some ideas to write this poem and he wrote this poem in a short time in one
sitting, that is what he said.
(Refer Slide Time: 14:09)
There are many poetic devices in this poem. Metonymy, we find in Corsons Inlet, it is a place
associated with walking. But it is used for thinking, perceiving about the whole cosmos,
about the whole human existence. We have the metaphor of walk as a liberator. We have
alliteration and assonance in this particular line, ‘straight lines blocks boxes binds.’ Simile,
we have in ‘significance running like a stream;’ ‘significance running like a stream through
the geography of my work.’ Further, we have a simile in swerves of action, like the inlet’s
Ammon’s alludes to Emerson’s Oversoul through this idea of Overall. This is different f rom
Oversoul because Emerson’s Oversoul attempts to transcend whereas Ammon’s Overall also
makes his attempt but then finally it lands on the ground. We have oxymoron in disorderly
orders, constant change. Assonance in risk is full, every living thing in. Paradox in that there
is no finality of vision. This is a vision of Ammon’s, there is no finality of vision. And then,
we have a very interesting line in this case the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness.
Those who pay attention to this particular line will come to know more about this possibility,
rule, sum rulelessness. We willspend some time on this shortly.
(Refer Slide Time: 15:57)
We do not have much of rhyme in this particular poem because it is all irregular. It is in
irregular rhyme and verse, but we have many repetitions of sounds. The rhythm of a walk on
the shore line, we can see as the lines move zig zag. However, Roger Gilbert has said we
have smooth rhyme in some lines, he quotes this line, ‘waved in and out with the waterline,
We have a number of repetition of words in this poem like in and out to indicate the
movement of poetic shore and mental lines. Again, we have variationsin meter in the number
of syllables from 1 to 15 syllables. We have single syllables in three lines, just this word
alone ‘occurs as then beaks,’ and lastly sound. We also have a long line with 15 syllables in
41 and 126, “I have reached no conclusions, have erected no [boundaries,” “Scope eludes my
grasp, that there is no finality of vision.” This is the kind of poem with rhyme, rhythm and
meter we find in this poem called “CorsonsInlet.”
(Refer Slide Time: 17:21)
We will have some understanding of this poem with this overall impression.It is a long poem
of 128 lines, specific to a place called Corsons Inlet and it is a specific vision of an individual
poet, so, we need to read
Log in to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Diploma in Modern Poetry Reading and Writing online course
Sign up to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Diploma in Modern Poetry Reading and Writing online course
Please enter you email address and we will mail you a link to reset your password.