William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All: a Visual Interpretation

Spring and all

“By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken”

 

Neil Myers declared that “Spring and All” is “one of the most important volumes of modern poetry” (Myers 285) This statement immediately begs the question of why. In “Spring and All”, Williams expands the category of poetic imagism by creating the effect of progressive and temporal movement in the mind’s eye of his readers.

Williams’ poetry is art in more ways than simply well-chosen words on a page. He uses color carefully and generously to paint a picture: “blue / mottled clouds,” “fields / brown,” “reddish / purplish, forked, upstanding twiggy / stuff,” and “brown leaves.” Williams himself wrote, “It isn’t what he says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity” (Billitteri 48). Following the road’s course, Williams starts on the horizon with the clouds and the hospital, and then moves progressively closer and more detailed as he describes the trees and bushes, until finally stopping on a single leaf. This type of poetry causes “eye movement of the observing self” (Myers 202). He moves the eye from far away to close at hand, from largest to smallest.

Myers notes that in “Spring and All”, Williams “perfected a technique of ordering objects into ‘a still life of special kind … in which progress is clearly seen either in spatial and temporal movement of in symbolic pattern’” (Myers 285). The temporal movement is enacted through phrases such as, “sluggish / dazed spring approaches,” which occurs in the exact middle of the poem (Williams 14-15). It quickly gathers speed, both temporally and orally as Williams writes, “Now the grass, tomorrow / the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf / One by one objects are defined – / it quickens” (Williams 20-23).

Williams also intrigues by defying norms and re-imagining poetry’s focus. David Perkins writes that “Williams had a gift for seeing as if for the first time, and in his “Spring and All” the traditional associations do not exist. His spring is not in the least sweet, delicate, joyous, or shy, but tough, tenacious, dynamic, and unstoppable” (Perkins 257). Nothing about this poem is spring-like according to the way spring has been defined in the past. In his definition of Imagism, Ezra Pound wrote that poetry must meet three categories in order to exist inside the category: Direct treatment of the thing at hand, no unnecessary words, and musical rhythm above metronomic. Williams meets all of the required standards while also raising his poetry to expand imagism through his intrinsic movement and new vision.

To match Williams’ time period and approach, I have attempted to draw with a modernist flair. The clouds start on the right as a mass that is blown into “mottled clouds” to create the movement effect of how they were “driven from the / northeast – a cold wind” (Williams 3-4). The hospital, being “contagious,” is set apart from the rest of society and placed in a rural setting near a “waste of broad, muddy fields” (Williams 5). In order to create the zooming in effect, I included more detail the closer I got to the bottom of the page. This also creates the temporal effect as best as can be represented through a picture, with the “wildcarrot leaf” being the last thing the viewers eye meets as it travels down the road and page.

 

Works Cited:

Myers, Neil. 1965. “WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS’ SPRING AND ALL.” Modern Language Quarterly 26, no. 2: 285. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2016).

Billitteri, Carla. 2007. “William Carlos Williams and the Politics of Form.” Journal Of Modern Literature 30, no. 2: 42-63. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2016).

Perkins, David. “The Impact of William Carlos Williams.” A History of Modern Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1976. 246-75. Print.

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