Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Spring And All

by lizard

William Carlos Williams is mostly known as the poet who wrote that poem about the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water; he is less commonly known as one of the key innovators of the Modern push to break free from convention.

Spring And All (published 1923) has been described as a “manifesto of the imagination”, and it’s from this larger work that the excised wheel barrow poem is cut from.

For poetry nerds, New Directions released a facsimile edition of the original last year.

Below the fold is an excerpt that has nothing to do with white chickens.

*

CHAPTER 19

O meager times, so fat in everything imaginable! imagine the New World that rises to our windows from the sea on Mondays and on Saturdays—and on every other day of the week also. Imagine it in all its prismatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls—our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure! Imagine the monster project of the moment: Tomorrow we the people of the United States are going to Europe armed to kill every man, woman and child in the areas west of the Carpathian Mountains (also east) sparing none. Imagine the sensation it will cause. First we shall kill them and then they, us. But we are careful to spare the Spanish bulls, the birds, rabbits, small dear and of course—the Russians. For the Russians we shall build a bridge from edge to edge of the Atlantic—having first been at pains to slaughter all Canadians and Mexicans on this side. Then, oh then, the great feature will take place.

For Williams, Spring and the Imagination aren’t all flowers and bird song. A few sections later, this:

The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill. The imagination is supreme. To it all our works forever, from the remotest past to the farthest future, have been, are and will be dedicated. To it alone we show our wit by having raised in its honor as monument not the least pebble. To it now we come to dedicate our secret project: the annihilation of every human creature on the face of the earth. This is something never before attempted. None to remain; nothing but the lower vertebrates, the mollusks, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew. Houses crumble to ruin, cities disappear giving place to mounds of soil blown thither by the winds, small bushes and grass give way to trees for countless generations. A marvellous serenity broken only by bird and wild beast calls reigns over the entire sphere. Order and peace abound.

It’s strange to read something so oddly prescient, written in 1923—before nuclear annihilation had been realized—sitting here in 2012.

Strange, like a March heat wave.

I don’t know if it’s hyperbole to say we’re off the charts now.

Or alarmist to say Fukushima…or San Onofre

Williams gets the last say.

*

III

The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
black orchards
darkened by the March clouds—
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
bristling by
the rainsluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure of
the farmer—composing
—antagonist

—WCW


  1. Zero Tolerance

    Actually, his vision of world annihilation was common for people living in the pre-nuclear world of 1923. They had just witnessed the worst annihilation of human beings in all history. It was called World War I.

    From the novel “Acid Acres,” which I mentioned under the Jack Kerouac post, this is how a WW I veteran described what he saw.

    ///

    Through the smoke and dust of a world without reason, the eyes of a young generation saw the ruins appearing. The villages had vanished. The forests had fallen. Shell-pocked soil spread out for many miles, cordoned by concertina, riven by ruts, torn by trenches. Broken beam by beam and cut-up corpse by corpse, madmen had meticulously manufactured a murderous moonscape on Earth. And then, as if the scene were not sufficiently sanguine, there came the crawling gagging green nightmare of poison gas.

    A good day meant a mere ten or twenty thousand total dead; a bad day saw sixty-thousand bloated bodies on each side. But it was not the chlorine or mustard gas that littered the lanes and meadows with lumped and coiled shapes. It was nineteenth century tactics colliding with twentieth century technology; it was the machine gun, harvester of humans. For a hamlet or hillcrest, river or road, men were laid in neat lines like freshly fallen wheat, and twenty million eyes were set in stone.

    ///

    Williams and his entire generation were haunted by that experience. And after that experience, imagining a world completely devoid of all human beings was not too great a feat.

    — Max Bucks

  2. Steve W

    My friend lives and works in Japan. The link is to his recommended reading site on the nuclear disaster.

    http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2012/03/disaster-debris-is-radioactive-ministry.html

    this is what my friend wrote:
    “I read that blog (ex-skf) daily. For the last year, it has featured, at least once a week, stories that would be mind-blowing front-page news if they were happening in your country. For all my friends who tell me that Fukushima has dropped out of their local news, this is where to get ongoing updates.”

    • lizard19

      thank you, Steve. Fukushima is, imho, the most significant event that happened last year, and its conspicuous absence from closer coverage by the MSM is as dangerous as the actual disaster, because it means a wider examination of our own reliance on nuclear power isn’t happening.

      for the states, it’s a matter of when, not if.

  3. I never knew too much about William but I enjoyed reading the poem! :) I am going look into more of his work!

  1. 1 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

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    […] Spring and All […]

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