William Carlos Williams in Rutherford, New Jersey
The usual finicky air-popping (sense of ravening molecules banged about by unending local breezes) state: some combo of sleep-lack and desuetude (what Dr. Johnson calls, awkwardly, “cessation to be accustomed,” and quotes prognosticator Richard Allestree’s 1667 Government of the Tongue: “We see in all things how desuetude does contract and narrow our faculties, so that we can apprehend only those things wherein we are conversant . . .”), a pre-expiry feeling of neglect and relief. Two loud booms and a single high-pitched straggler: “whyn’t you leave the fuckin’ crows be?” (Jamming here in scant December, with offerings likely to go scanter: fault of the accrual of short days, the seasonal meager . . .)
Marianne Moore, who likes to make “small (or large)” machines capable of numerous and contrary doings, says Dr. Williams “nicknames . . . chains of incontrovertibly logical apparent non-sequiturs, rigmarole.” And (reviewing Williams’s Collected Poems, 1921-1931 in Poetry in 1934), combines a sense of keenly weighted “posture” with its contrary “senseless unarrangement” to grand and telling effect:
Disliking the tawdriness of unnecessary explanation, the detracting compulsory connective, stock speech of any kind, he sets the words down, “each note secure in its own posture—singularly woven.” “The senseless unarrangement of wild things” which he imitates makes some kinds of correct writing look rather foolish . . .“Each note secure in its own posture—singularly woven” (a line reminiscent of Sir Philip Sidney’s “not speaking . . . words as they chanceably fall from the mouth, but peyzing each sillable of each worde by iust proportion”) out of Williams’s “Trees” (. . . the long yellow notes / of poplars flow upward in a descending / scale, each note secure in its own / posture—singularly woven. // All voices are blent willingly / against the heaving contra-bass . . .”—lines that seem to prefigure the opening of “The Descent”: “The descent beckons / as the ascent beckoned. / Memory is a kind / of accomplishment, / a sort of renewal . . .”). “The senseless unarrangement of wild things” out of “This Florida: 1924,” a piece addressed to Wallace Stevens:
But I am sick of rime—Against “rime” Williams poses a fine quandary of oranges—“orange / of ale and lilies // orange of topaz, orange of red hair / orange of curaçoa / orange of the Tiber // turbid, orange of the bottom / rocks in Maine rivers . . .”—seeing’s wild formal onslaught poised against rhyme’s genial denial. I think of O’Hara’s 1955 piece “Radio,” its “orange,” too, signaling an inadequacy of what “the ear can hold”:
The whole damned town
is riming up one street
and down another, yet there is
the rime of her white teeth
the rime of glasses
at my plate, the ripple rime
the rime her fingers make—
And we thought to escape rime
by imitation of the senseless
unarrangement of wild things—
the stupidest rime of all—
Why do you play such dreary musicOf note: Moore’s removals. In its original, the review—called “‘Things Others Never Notice’”—begins:
on Saturday afternoon, when tired
mortally tired I long for a little
reminder of immortal energy?
week long while I trudge fatiguingly
from desk to desk in the museum
you spill your miracles of Grieg
and Honegger on shut-ins.
Am I not
shut in too, and after a week
of work don’t I deserve Prokofieff?
Well, I have my beautiful de Kooning
to aspire to. I think it has an orange
bed in it, more than the ear can hold.
Struggle, like the compression which propels the steam engine, is a main force in William Carlos Williams. He “looks a bit like that grand old plaster cast, Lessing’s Laocoön,” Wallace Stevens says in the introduction to this book. And the breathless budding of thought from thought is one of the results and charms of the pressure configured . . .Cut in Predilections:
Struggle is a main force in William Carlos Williams. And the breathless budding of thought from thought is one of the results and charms of the pressure configured . . .As Moore says in the piece itself: “Likenesses here are not reminders of the object, they are likenesses.” Which wonderful phrase is—it, too—cut: “Likenesses here are not reminders of the object, they are it.” The somewhat odd Stevens quote is oddly truncated, and smartly removed. It reads, in Stevens’s Preface, amid talk of Williams’s “anti-poetic” (“a blood passion and not a passion of the inkpot”) leaning, and its burgeoning war with the “sentimental” (“Something of the unreal is necessary to fecundate the real; something of the sentimental is necessary to fecundate the anti-poetic”), thus: “So defined, Williams looks a bit like that grand old plaster cast, Lessing’s Laocoön: the realist struggling to escape from the serpents of the unreal.”