Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ivy Crown - W.C. Williams

Ahh... William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)... I remember having his room in the Upper Quad at Penn being pointed out to me when I was a freshman living in the lower Quad.  He went on to medical school and practiced family medicine - the old-fashioned way, with house calls! - in northern New Jersey for forty years, while also establishing himself as one of the most authentic and important voices in American poetry, a "must read" in any poetry course covering the 20th Century.  I hope that you, dear reader, take the extra few minutes sometime to "click" on his name (at the bottom), which will take you to a good bio sketch about someone a critic called: " immensely complicated man: energetic, compassionate, socially conscious, depressive, urbane, provincial, tough, fastidious, capricious, independent, dedicated, completely responsive.... He was the complete human being, and all of the qualities of his personality were fused in his writings."  My selection for today is one that needs reading more than once... and slowly, with attention, both aurally and visually, to the line breaks: they really matter.  I would have preferred to share another poem of his - Asphodel, That Greenly Flower - but it's too long for here, though a masterpiece.  (If you click here, it will take you to an mp3 audio file (!) that's Williams, in 1954, reading the opening lines from it.  When you are on that site, go to the right side, to the tan background box in the middle and click on the green smaller box with the white triangle inside to play it without downloading.)

The Ivy Crown

The whole process is a lie,
                                     crowned by excess,
it break forcefully,
                  one way or another,
                                     from its confinement –
or find a deeper well.
                  Antony and Cleopatra
                                     were right;
they have shown
                  the way.  I love you
                                    or I do not live
at all.

Daffodil time
                  is past. This is
                                    summer, summer!
the heart says,
                  and not even the full of it.
                                    No doubts
are permitted –
                  though they will come
                                     and may
before our time
                  overwhelm us.
                                    We are only mortal
but being mortal
                  can defy our fate.
                                    We may
by an outside chance
                  even win!  We do not
                                    look to see
jonquils and violets
                  come again
                                    but there are,
                  the roses!

Romance has no part in it.
                 The business of love is
                                    cruelty which,
by our will,
                 we transform
                                    to live together.
It has its seasons,
                 for and against,
                                    whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
                 to assert
                                    toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
                 is to tear flesh,
                                    I have proceeded
through them.
                                    the briars out,
they say.
                 You cannot live
                                    and keep free of

Children pick flowers.
                  Let them,
                                    Through having them
in hand
                  they have no further use for them
                                    but leave them crumpled
at the curb’s edge.

At our age the imagination
                  across the sorry facts
                                    lifts us
to make roses
                  stand before thorns.
love is cruel
                  and selfish
                                   and totally obtuse –
at least, blinded by the light,
                  young love is.
                                   But we are older,
I to love
                  and you to be loved,
                                   we have,
no matter how,
                  by our wills survived
                                   to keep
the jeweled prize
                                   at our finger tips.
We will it so
                  and so it is
                                   past all accident.

                                                                                  William Carlos Williams - American

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