Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Sort of a Song" by William Carlos Williams

Let the snake wait under
his weed 
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait

-- through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

First of all, this guy has a cool name. It's almost a palindrome. It makes me wonder if his parents were poets, too -- or hippies. Maybe a little of both. It is clear that Williams doesn't like to conform to little things like complete sentences, capitalization, or complete ideas, and he seems to like nature. But hey, that's all helped him write!

The first thing that stands out about his poem -- besides the unconventional structure -- is the way the words simply flow off the tongue. It is written in iambic meter and very elegantly, too. The majority of the words are only one syllable, which keeps the poem moving at a steady pace: the syllables are evenly spaced in the words. When a word does have more than one syllable, it is clear that it is supposed to be pronounced at the same pace. The reader does not rush through "Invent!" or "Saxifrage." Williams has also carefully chosen his words so that they are easy to say. There is no tongue-tying "Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore." He keeps the tongue loose by using hard, open vowels sound like in "snake," "weed," "people," and "stones." Even "saxifrage," though possibly unfamiliar, turns out to be easy to pronounce. As a result, it flows, very much like a song, just as the title suggests. Even without the faintest clue of what the poem is about, it is beautiful because the arrangement of the words make it so.

But there is a meaning. Williams appears to be talking about two separate things: writing or the creative process and nature. He seems to switch randomly between the two, with no hint at their connection besides the first two lines of the second stanza: "through metaphor to reconcile/ the people and the stones." Although I believe Williams wrote this poem more to open the mind than focus it on any one idea, his is also making a very profound statement about the purpose of poetry. The idea of people and stones needs reconciliation seems laughable, but there are many ways that men and nature "don't get along." When have we ever discovered a new environment without somehow wrecking havoc in it? And stones can refer to more than just nature. There are plenty to spiritual or personal springs that we fail to connect with. The saxifrage that Williams speaks of is a real type of flower. It grows in rocky, alpine areas and looks quite delicate. But nothing grows in the hard mountains without being strong. It represents Williams' creativity and whatever helps him connect with the universe. Suddenly, the two unconnected clauses in the first stanza start to make a little sense: they are connecting people and nature.

Of course Williams doesn't just standard structure in his poem. The incomplete phrases and strange punctuation carry the reader through the poem like notes in a song, suppressing the reader's instinct to stop and instead enticing him to just listen. He is also trying to speak the language of the universe. That language isn't bound down by punctuation, clauses, or other pesky rules. Williams isn't speaking to the mind, cluttered as it is with rules and criticism; he's speaking to the heart. The poem conveys an emotion of curiosity, wonder, and mild excitement. The rest -- the song-like words, the meaning -- lead only to that.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! Your blog is a pleasure to read. :)