William Carlos Williams: Contribution to American Literature

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      William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. He had a European preparatory education, following his education in the New York public schools. Prior to his enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his M.D., in 1906 he was acquaintance with Ezra Pound, the great poet. Always he was interested in writing poetry. He was a practicing pediatrician throughout his life, a doctor, he delivered over 2,000 babies and wrote poems on his prescription pads. Williams was a classmate of poets like, Ezra and this friendship reveals the influence of imagism. Later, he went on to champion the use of colloquial speech. His ear for the natural rhythms of American English helped to free American poetry from the iambic meter that had dominated English verse since the Renaissance. His sympathy for ordinary working people, children, and everyday events in modem urban settings make his poetry attractive and accessible. “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923), like a Dutch still life, finds interest and beauty in everyday objects:

      In a way, Williams was opposite of John Crow Ransom in that, for his, science furnished a realistic perception that is an entree to poetry. His practice in industrial New Jersey of Paterson, and his views of the lives led there, set against history of the city, led to his epic poems. Being a recipient of many awards for his writing of poetry, Williams continued to work out his iconoclastic and tough-minded poetry, in which the poet “by use of imagination and the language he hears” tries to lift “the material conditions and appearances of his environment to the sphere of intelligence, where they will have new currency.” It is what a poet says that counts for Williams, but “what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.” As a poet, he cultivated a relaxed, natural poetry. In his hands, the poem was not to become a perfect object of art as in the hands of Stevens, or the carefully recreated Wordsworthian incident as in Frost’s poetry. Instead, the poem was to capture an instant of time like an imposed snapshot - a concept, he derived from photographers and artists, he met at galleries like, Stieglitz’s in New York City. Like photographs, his poems often hint at hidden possibilities or attractions, as in “The Young Housewife”.

      He tanned his work “objectivist” to suggest the importance of concrete, visual objects. It is similar to Eliot’s ‘objective correlative’. His poetic work often captured, the spontaneous, emotive pattern of experience, and influenced the “Beat” writing of the early 1950s. Like Eliot and Pound, Williams tried his hand at the epic form but while their epics employ literary allusions directed to a small number of highly educated readers, Williams, instead, writes for a more general audience. Though he studied abroad, he elected to live in the United States. His epic, Paterson (five vols., 1946 -1958), celebrates his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, as seen by an autobiographical “Dr. Paterson”. In it, Williams juxtaposed lyric passages, prose, letters, autobiography, newspaper accounts, and historical facts. The layout’s ample white space suggests the open road theme of American literature and gives a sense of new vistas even open to the poor people who picnic in the public park on Sundays. Like Whitman’s persona in Leaves of Grass, Dr. Paterson moves freely among the working people.

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