I may be partial to Williams’ poetry, because he’s “one of our own”; that is, he’s from northern New Jersey. Williams wrote about familiar places—the city of Paterson, where my paternal grandparents grew up, where my father born. In fact, the edge of Paterson (once considered a beautiful city, more of a slum today, such a shame) borders my current city of Clifton, New Jersey. Williams also wrote a collection of short stories called Life along the Passaic River, another landmark close to home.
But more than that, Williams truly was one of the most prominent poets during the “years between the wars.” A physician, Williams was known for scribbling poetry on prescription pads. When I studied Williams as an undergrad I was taken by his short, fleeting nonconventional (it was popular era for nonconventional poetry) poems that seemed to be lacking in broader, more abstract notions. In fact, Williams once said his poems were “No ideas but in things.” The concrete aspect of his words, the odd formation of his words, and the brief, one second it’s there, one second it’s gone nature of his words helped give Williams a name of his own.
Two of my favorite poems by Williams are written below followed by a brief analysis. “The Red Wheelbarrow” is from 1923, and “This Is Just to Say” is from 1934.
|The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
I don’t believe there is too much to say here. Perhaps it signifies the things we take for granted. Most people don’t think twice about a wheelbarrow, but in fact, much labor could not be done without it. The seemingly innocuous inanimate objects are necessary than we think.
I wonder about the use color. Why red? Chickens are generally white. But what is there place in the poem?
And what about the odd format?
Some believe that the poem is meant to do nothing more than to put a quick, strong image in the mind of the reader.
This Is Just to Say
I have eaten
An interesting one. I always saw it as a note someone left on the refrigerator. Of course the mystery is who left for the note for whom?
The confession—which is essentially what this is—doesn’t express much sorrow or regret. In fact, in parts (“Forgive me”) it’s quite demanding.
Perhaps a greater notion here is the fact that these plums are only good for a while. These types of things do tend to spoil quickly. Maybe there is a lesson in here. Waiting too long to take advantage of life’s pleasures may result in regret—even if you are stealing someone’s plums.
Two poems that say little, but express much—or don’t express much. Do you have your own interpretation? I’d love to hear about it!