William Carlos Williams’ Young Sycamore: a Visual Interpretation

Young Sycamore

“I must tell you
this young tree
whose round and firm trunk
between the wet

pavement and the gutter
(where water
is trickling) rises

into the air with
one undulant
thrust half its height-
and then

dividing and waning
sending out
young branches on
all sides-

hung with cocoons
it thins
till nothing is left of it
but two

eccentric knotted
bending forward
hornlike at the top”

“I must tell you,” Williams begins, automatically imparting excitement and anticipation (Williams 1). The entire “Young Sycamore” is an unfinished sentence that builds until, abruptly, the poem ends. Always one to push poetry’s boundaries, “Williams was concerned, also, with the visual impact of his poetry.” (Funkhouser 34) “Young Sycamore” creates paradoxical movement because the poem “takes us down the page while the inward eye is moving upward, so that the iconic dimension come in via inversion.” (Halter 204)

It begins by describing a tree “whose round and firm trunk … rises / bodily / in to the air” (Williams 3, 7-9) which builds until “nothing is left of it / but two / eccentric knotted / twigs” (Williams 19-22). When one reads as the tree develops down the poem, they are constructing it upwards in their mind’s eye as the description unfolds.

Peter Halter notes that “Young Sycamore,” “blends the sequential act of reading with the eye’s and the mind’s step-by-step appraisal of the object under scrutiny to the point where the linguistic force is coextensive with the life force of the tree … the unfolding or expansion of the poem becomes an icon for the unfolding and expansion of the tree, and thus mirror the process.” (Halter 204) Williams works to expand imagism by creating dynamic movement in his poems, invoking multiple senses for this effect.

To mimic the paradoxical movement Williams effects in “Young Sycamore,” I have drawn the tree upside-down, my signature forcing it to remain in place. One encounters this drawing in the same sequential order as Williams’ work. First the tree “between the wet / pavement and the gutter” (Williams 4-5), followed by its trunk which, at “half its height” (Williams 11) diverges into multiple branches.

After researching Williams’ use of “cocoons” (Williams 17), I discovered that they are seed pods and have represented them thusly. Because the water in the gutter is only “trickling” (Williams 7), it implies that the storm has passed, which is why the sky is blue. To match the overall scope of the poem, the perspective of the sycamore tree is drawn from the foot of the pavement looking up to the top. The blue of the sky has been styled as a gradient in order to further propel the eye downward to the top of the tree and capture the ironic movement Williams intended.


Works Cited:

Funkhouser, Linda, and Daniel C. O’Connell. 1985. “‘Measure’ in William Carlos Williams’ Poetry: Evidence from His Readings.” Journal Of Modern Literature 12, no. 1: 34. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost(accessed April 16, 2016).

Halter, Peter. “The Revolution in the Visual Arts and the Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Book, 1994) [WorldCat.org].” WorldCat.org: The World’s Largest Library Catalog. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.

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