Tag Archives: William Carlos Williams

Revised: Cyclical Despair and Redemption in “Spring and All”

Cyclical Despair and Redemption:

A Close Reading of “Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams

             The season of spring often connotes beauty and vitality; but perhaps the temporality of the season exudes tragedy as opposed to romantic optimism. William Carlos Williams’ poem “Spring and All” depicts the dawning of springtime as it enters and struggles against the incumbent, oppressive winter. The strong use of metaphorical device that radiates throughout the work indicates a human condition stretching beyond the seemingly descriptive landscape. Indeed, William’s stylistic and linguistic choices depict an element of futility in life, suggesting frustration at its ad nauseam cyclicality and inevitable mortality.

Williams utilizes  the language to create a boldly dire exposition of the winter landscape, as demonstrated by the following passage:

… Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water (“Spring” 4-7)

Descriptive words such as “waste,” “muddy,” “brown,” “dried weeds,” and “fallen” all convey the desolation and stagnancy that permeate the locale, a place described as “[b]y the road to the contagious hospital” (1). The road is leading to a place of supposed healing; and yet illness, despair, and death dominate over the salubrious potential. The road is almost too direct, too certain – and its surroundings suggest its unavoidable destination. The immediate declaration of such a linear path reinforces the notion of Williams’ depiction of nature connecting to human life, as one frequently associates the imagery of a road with the depiction of the journey of one’s existence. Williams sets the destination with finality, for “to the contagious hospital” does not suggest that it serves a mere stop by the wayside of an infinite path, but instead is the end destination.

Contagious may further be developed to reflect the nature of the imminent emergence of spring through the rapid spread of symptoms as “It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf” (22). The seasonal components infuse the barren landscape in somewhat of an ironic matter. Disease corrupts and wears away an infected body, subjecting the physical form to nefarious effects; yet the decay is already present within the manifestation of nature Williams presents. Spring appears as an opportunity for rebirth, perhaps for even a more sustainable renewal. It enters into a bleak, faded landscape of “reddish” and “purplish” hues, set amongst “twiggy” shrubbery, “dead, brown leaves,” and “leafless vines” (9, 10, 12, 13). All are suggestive of absence – of something that once was brilliant but that has since passed away into decay.

Though one may associate spring with new life, Williams portends its demise as immediately as he recognizes its entrance. An essential, decisive line break indicates this:

leafless vines –

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches – (13-15)

This transition from the description of the dying earth to the entrance of spring foreshadows the fate of the naïve season; for the pairing of the lines places them in a shared physical space within the text, bridging the two notions together into what was and what will be. Spring enters tentatively, not exuding hope, but instead becoming an object of sympathy in its “naked,” “uncertain of all” existence (16, 17). By the process that clarifies “outline of leaf,” there is a hesitant shift from the abstract uncertainty from which the season forms. It is pregnant period, which in turn transitions to emergence, the process of definition emulating the birth of an infant being. The vulnerability of spring in this fledgling form makes it susceptible to the world’s cruelty. The expectation of death encompasses what should be joyous proceedings; by the very condition of existence, one begins to die the very day one is born.

Thus, the spring is not pretentious or presumptuous of the beauty it might bring; its unknowing innocence ultimately translates into naiveté that allows the world around it to overwhelm its elements as it later “begins to awaken” (27). This awakening indicates not only the profuse burst of diverse flora and activity of fauna, but also is a somewhat dreadful occurrence; for its entrance comes with “stark dignity” that recognizes the ephemerality of its beauty (24). This intrinsic transience will cause it to shift into a darker state of being, into that inevitable decay which surrounded its initial growth. The “profound change” serves as merely a distraction from the overwhelming reality of death (25). Vitality is fleeting, ethereal; it transitions into the lethargy of mediocrity. Though vitality dissolves, the product of decay is accumulated and left to rot.

Several elements of the poem remind the audience of its own mortality and vulnerability. These include the aforementioned image of the road to the hospital, as well as other imagery that personifies the season of spring. For example, qualifiers like “dazed,” “naked,” and “uncertain,” as well as verbs such as “approaches” and “awaken” may be associated with human forms and actions (15, 16, 17; 15, 27). This allows the season, the natural surroundings, and the human observer to converge into one state of being. This poem seems to suggest that ultimately, humans are highly intellectually developed animals which have electively distanced themselves from their natural origins through separatist mindset and mechanical developments. “Spring and All” reminds the human race of the carbon which comprises all life, that which all are essentially formed from and shall one day return to.

A distinct theme of cyclicality is present in the piece. Williams’ prose held within the volume Spring and All substantiates this idea. In Chapter VI he states, “Through the orderly sequences of unmentionable time EVOLUTION HAS REPEATED ITSELF FROM THE BEGINNING” (804). Williams appropriately titles Chapter XIX – which immediately precedes the poem “Spring and All” in the book – as “The Traditionalists of Plagiarism”. Williams cites parallels throughout the earth’s existence. Perhaps there has been some hint of progression, but nature has essentially never truly changed, having only gone through a series of cyclical processes that have led to little revelation as to meaning of existence or even hinting to the direction in which one should aim to move. The poem essentially carries this theme forth by emphasizing life’s futile struggle towards beauty and the inevitable decay and destruction of everything prized. People continue to make the same mistakes: there is love, hate, war, poverty, misunderstanding – most feelings and actions remain calculable. This pattern of existence has not evolved; there is yet to be a revolutionary shift in human sentiment or in the functions of the world, except when artificially implemented. This in turn indicates a stagnancy in existence, effectively instilling futility into the concept of being.

Though this pessimistic notion may be perturbing to realize, there is also a great dark splendor contained within, for it inspires one to consider the expanse of the universe and the consistency with which it operates. Is not the clockwork magnificent? “Spring and All” dwells upon fatalistic beauty of nature; yet the dualism of the phrase “This too shall pass” rings throughout its lines. Indeed, “Spring and All” may further stimulate – as opposed to stifle – the desire for distinction and individuality; for while the brilliance proffered by the idea of spring may rapidly fade, its audacious attempt at existence offers the crucial hope that the weary extant world lacks.

Futility in William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All”

The season of spring often connotes beauty and vitality; but perhaps the temporality of such a season is more tragic than romantic. William Carlos Williams’ poem “Spring and All” depicts the dawning of springtime as it enters and struggles against the incumbent, oppressive winter. The strong use of metaphorical device indicates a human condition stretching beyond the seemingly descriptive landscape. Indeed, William’s stylistic and linguistic choices help to depict an element of futility in life, suggesting frustration at its ad nauseam cyclicality and inevitable mortality.

Williams utilizes distinct language to create a boldly dire exposition of the winter landscape, as demonstrated by the following passage:

… Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water (“Spring” 4-7)

Descriptive language such as “waste,” “muddy,” “brown,” “dried weeds,” and “fallen” all convey the desolation and stagnancy that permeate the locale, a place described as “[b]y the road to the contagious hospital” (1). The road is leading to a place of supposed healing; and yet in this place there exists great illness, despair, and death. The road is almost too direct, too certain – and its surroundings suggest its destination. The immediate declaration of such a linear path reinforces the notion of Williams’ depiction of nature connecting to human life, as one frequently associates the imagery of a road with the depiction of the journey of one’s existence. Williams sets the destination with finality, for “to the contagious hospital” does not suggest that it serves a mere stop by the wayside of an infinite path, but instead is the end destination.

Contagious may further be developed to reflect the nature of the later emergence of spring through the rapid spread of symptoms as “It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf” (22). The seasonal components infuse the barren landscape in somewhat of an ironic matter. A healthy body infected with disease is corrupted and worn away by the illness’s nefarious effects; yet within this form of nature, the decay already is present. Spring appears as an opportunity for rebirth, perhaps for even a more sustainable renewal. It enters into a bleak, faded landscape of “reddish” and “purplish” hues, set amongst “twiggy” shrubbery, “dead, brown leaves,” and “leafless vines” (9, 10, 12, 13). All are suggestive of absence – of something that once was brilliant but that has since passed away into decay.

Though one may associate spring with new life, Williams portends its demise as immediately as he recognizes its entrance. An essential, decisive line break indicates this:

leafless vines –

 

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches – (13-15)

This transition from the description of the dying earth to the entrance of spring foreshadows the fate of the naïve season; for the pairing of the lines places them in a shared physical space within the text, bridging the two notions together into what was and what will be. Spring does not exude hope, but instead becomes an object of sympathy in its “naked,” “uncertain of all” existence (16, 17). By the process that clarifies “outline of leaf,” there is a shift from the abstract uncertainty – a pregnant period – to definition by life via a transition of emergence, reflecting birth. Yet its vulnerability makes it susceptible to the world’s cruelty. Death encompasses what should be joyous proceedings; by the very condition of existence, one begins to die the very day he, she, or it is born.

Thus, the spring is not pretentious or presumptuous of the beauty it might bring; its innocence ultimately translates into naiveté that allows the world around it to overwhelm its elements as it later “begins to awaken” (27). This awakening indicates not only the profuse burst of diverse flora and activity of fauna, but also is a somewhat tragic occurrence; for its entrance comes with “stark dignity” that recognizes the ephemerality of its beauty (24). This intrinsic transience will cause it to shift into a darker state of being, into that inevitable decay which surrounded its initial growth. The “profound change” serves as merely a distraction from the overwhelming reality of death (25). Vitality is fleeting, ethereal; it transitions into the lethargy of mediocrity. Though vitality dissolves, the product of decay is accumulated and left to rot.

Several elements of the poem remind readers of their own mortality and vulnerability. These include the aforementioned image of the road to the hospital, as well as other imagery that personifies the season of spring. For example, qualifiers like “dazed,” “naked,” and “uncertain,” as well as verbs such as “approaches” and “awaken” are typically associated with human forms and actions (15, 16, 17; 15, 27). This allows the season, the natural surroundings, and the human observer to converge into one state of being. This poem seems to suggest that ultimately, humans are highly intellectually developed animals which have elected to distance themselves from their natural origins through mindset and the mechanical developments. “Spring and All” reminds the human race of the carbon which comprises all life, that which all are essentially formed from and shall one day return to.

A distinct theme of cyclicality is present in the piece. Williams’ prose held within the volume Spring and All substantiates this idea. In Chapter VI he states, “Through the orderly sequences of unmentionable time EVOLUTION HAS REPEATED ITSELF FROM THE BEGINNING” (804). Williams appropriately titles Chapter XIX – which immediately precedes the poem “Spring and All” – as “The Traditionalists of Plagiarism”. Williams cites parallels throughout the earth’s existence. Perhaps there has been some hint of progression, but nature has essentially never changed, having only gone through a series of cyclical processes that have led to little revelation as to meaning of existence or even hinting to the direction in which one should aim to move. The poem “Spring and All” essentially carries this theme forth by emphasizing life’s futile struggle towards beauty and the inevitable decay and destruction of everything prized. People continue to make the same mistakes: there is love, hate, war, poverty, misunderstanding – most feelings and actions remain calculable. This pattern of existence has not evolved; there is yet to be a revolutionary shift in human sentiment or in the functions of the world, except when artificially implemented. This in turn indicates a stagnancy in existence, effectively instilling futility into the concept of being.

Though this darkly pessimistic notion may be perturbing to realize, there is also a great splendor in it, for it inspires one to consider the expanse of the universe and the consistency with which it operates. Is not the clockwork magnificent? If taken suitably, “Spring and All” should further stimulate the desire for distinction and individuality; and though perhaps “This too shall pass” rings true, there is genuine, lasting beauty in the effort to live the very best life that one possibly can.

Comparison of Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon” and William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”

“But the purpose of the balloon was not to amuse children.” (Barthelme, 605)

“So much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow” (Williams)

Upon reading Donald Barthelme’s short story “The Balloon,” I immediately was reminded of the sensation of reading William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Stylistically, the two are rather different, in that Williams writes using short, simple words to describe the innocent object, while Barthelme composes and entire story, complete with generally ordinary sentence structure and grammar, describing an equally innocent, yet more absurd object.  Williams’s expression of the state of a red wheelbarrow is completed in one sentence, one thought, yet Barthelme details the balloon’s presence through the opinions and actions of various people. The more important part of the comparison comes from examining the reactions of the reader to the two descriptions. First, the authors both employ a degree of absurdity in their writing. Williams writes that “so much depends” on such an ordinary object as a red wheelbarrow. The addition of the word “so” gives the poem its absurdity through it’s implication that the wheelbarrow is of significant importance to the reader, the author, and to the world. How much can we honestly expect to depend on a child’s playtoy? The absurdity in Barthelme’s story comes from the idea that one could actually blow up a balloon large enough to cover the entire Manhattan skyline without any significant consequence. In this sense, both stories assume some degree of fantasy. The imagery associated with the wheelbarrow “glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens” creates a mystical scene. Additionally, the image of a giant balloon on which people stroll and jump tells us that we are not to take the story literally.

This poses a problem, however, as we are never offered a satisfactory explanation for the balloon’s existence or its enormity. The reader wastes much cognition on pondering the hidden meaning of the balloon, questioning the symbolic nature of the balloon. Like the citizens of New York, who develop various interpretations to the reason behind balloon’s existence, the reader also convinces himself of a deeper significance. In this way, I think both Williams and Barthelme succeed in their writing. We will never know exactly what depends on the red wheelbarrow, but we are afforded the opportunity to decide for ourselves exactly what it means to us. In the same way, we will never know the narrator’s purpose for installing the massive balloon, but we are given the ability to interpret it how we please. Our predictions regarding the symbolism of the balloon and the wheelbarrow are never confirmed nor denied.

“Contagious” (781)

William Carlos Williams opens his poem “Spring and All” with the line: “By the road to the contagious hospital.” Instantly, the audience imagines someone in trouble, someone hurt, or someone in need of help on the road to a hospital seeking care. Yet, the hospital is painted grimly with the adjective “contagious,” meaning something spread from one person or organism to another by direct or indirect contact. Thus, we imagine this person on the road is sick or diseased. While hospitals save lives and keep the sickly housed and fed, the white walls, the small of disinfectant, and the idea of being surrounded by impending death and the “contagious,” coughing patients often create a very bleak picture of the institution. However, the word “contagious” does not necessarily refer to the spread of disease; the spread of ideas is “contagious.” Humans are capable of thought and communication. Overtime we have developed science and the instructing of recurrent ideas through education. The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was a contagious disease of sorts as people caught the idea of individualism from one another. The Renaissance before that spread ideas of humanism and secularism with some stray from religion and the Protestant Reformation diverging from Catholicism.

The word “renaissance” literally means rebirth. Similarly, “Spring and All,” personifies the season of spring, which is a symbol for rebirth, life and growth. The “profound change” of spring’s arrival at the end of William Carlos Williams’ poem is a metaphor for the changes that were occurring in the early twentieth century. World War I had ended and people were producing new technology and becoming MODERN. Poets like William Carlos Williams were writing modernist manifestos to encourage departure form traditionalism. “Spring and All” is actually the title of a volume of Williams Carlos Williams that includes a modernist manifesto professing these radical modernist ideas hoping to catch or convince the audience (contagiously). He encourages the evolution of our ideas, which involves a “plagiarism” of past ideas, but also an “imagination” to expand on those ideas (Norton 804). While these “contagious” modern ideas may cause some disagreement or some chaos in their spread, they are necessary for growth. Returning to the image of the hospital, some will go to die while others will go for contagion, rebirth, and further development. Hence, at the beginning of the poem, mankind is only “by the road to the contagious hospital,” while at the end, mankind is along it.

depends

The Red Wheelbarrow- William Carlos Williams

The verb “depends”, written in the first line, serves as a foundation to the poem. “Depends” naturally causes the one to think, “Depends upon what?” The word “depends” thus requests that the reader carefully consider the poem because of its implication that there are circumstances to ponder. The reader then thoughtfully follows the poem to its conclusion, or the discovery of the dependable red wheelbarrow. The word “depends”, relating to the word “dependable”, suggests a system of support; something must depend upon something else. Williams pushes the reader to imagine what, exactly, is depending upon the red wheelbarrow. Williams’ use of the word “depends” gives the reader’s mind the freedom to daydream. The verb “depends” challenges the reader to pause and contemplate Williams’ deliberately constructed phrases. Perhaps significant is the fact that the wheelbarrow is a man-made object. Though an innovation existing for many years, the wheelbarrow is often overlooked. Similarly, Williams’ small poem is a simple, man-made construct that the reader could easily overlook. The word “depends” is essential in creating a contemplative mood. By taking time to reflect upon Williams’ poem, one is consciously stepping back from fast-paced contemporary society to appreciate the seemingly mundane.