Wednesday, October 31, 2007

William Carlos Williams, "The artist works to express perceptions rather than attain standards..."

According to Williams, the object of writing is "the triumph of sense---the ability to set a thing up against the moment and have it escape banality... The sense is not carried as an extraneous 'meaning,' but is constituted by the work itself. One does not write a poem to say something but to write a poem... "

Williams, who closely followed some of the painters we are discussing, noted that "abstraction... has renew[ed] and reclarif[ied] pure form... The writer attempts to present the sense of the moment, revealed in climaxes of intelligence (beauty) through continually refreshed crystallizations of form."

Consider, in light of these rather complicated remarks, his interest in perception and time (Duchamp's Nude), and how this influences form in Williams' work.


Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
moving tense
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.


    WHEN I was younger
    it was plain to me
    I must make something of myself.
    Older now
    I walk back streets
    admiring the houses
    of the very poor:
    roof out of line with sides
    the yards cluttered
    with old chicken wire, ashes,
    furniture gone wrong;
    the fences and outhouses
    built of barrel staves
    and parts of boxes, all,
    if I am fortunate,
    smeared a bluish green
    that properly weathered
    pleases me best of all colors.

    No one
    will believe this
    of vast import to the nation.

Portrait of a Lady

YOUR thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze--or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
--as if that answered
anything. Ah, yes--below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore--
Which shore?--
the sand clings to my lips--
Which shore?
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.

The Young Housewife

    AT ten A.M. the young housewife
    moves about in negligee behind
    the wooden walls of her husband's house.
    I pass solitary in my car.

    Then again she comes to the curb
    to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands
    shy, uncorseted, tucking in
    stray ends of hair, and I compare her
    to a fallen leaf.

    The noiseless wheels of my car
    rush with a crackling sound over
    dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.

      ORROW is my own yard
      where the new grass
      flames as it has flamed
      often before but not
      with the cold fire
      that closes round me this year.
      Thirtyfive years
      I lived with my husband.
      The plumtree is white today
      with masses of flowers.
      Masses of flowers
      load the cherry branches
      and color some bushes
      yellow and some red
      but the grief in my heart
      is stronger than they
      for though they were my joy
      formerly, today I notice them
      and turned away forgetting.
      Today my son told me
      that in the meadows,
      at the edge of the heavy woods
      in the distance, he saw
      trees of white flowers.
      I feel that I would like
      to go there
      and fall into those flowers
      and sink into the marsh near them.

1 comment:

Meghan said...

Art for art’s sake:

Williams writes that art and poetry exist to convey sense, not meaning. Each piece of work is an expression of sentiment and emotion rather than a channel for communicating political and social agendas. “The sense is not carried as an extraneous 'meaning,' but is constituted by the work itself,” meaning the piece expresses sense/beauty simply because it exists. This philosophy is related to the Latin expression, “ars gratia artis,” or “art for art’s sake.” A piece of art is symbolic because it is art, not because it follows standard forms like meter and literary devices. The meaning is founded in its existence.

Abstraction is fundamentally rooted in individual perception and interpretation. Williams' poems express abstraction as narrative perception and observation; time enables individuals to develop perception to appreciate beauty and the value in its existence. In the poem “Pastoral,” the narrator believed as a child that he must become something great. However, as an adult, he finds enjoyment and beauty in the living conditions of the poor (the opposite of the great existence to which he aspired). This expresses an appreciation for beauty found in simple, everyday settings like a “roof out of line with sides/ the yards cluttered/ with old chicken wire, ashes,/ furniture gone wrong;/ the fences and outhouses/ built of barrel staves/ and parts of boxes” (Williams). Williams does not assign the poor houses a degree of beauty; rather, he evokes a sense of beauty and appreciation by describing the scene and the narrator’s appreciation of it. Duchamp's "Nudes" translates similarly. The woman does appear beautiful because of the fractured state of her figure, but there is a sense of grace in her slow descent. This graceful descent expresses a sense of beauty, as does her slow pace and geometrical shape.

The conversational nature of the “Portrait of a Lady” mocks an attempt at forcing meaning on art. The “Lady” becomes fixated on the places the first narrator speaks of while he/she continues to make ridiculous caparisons. The two are obviously conversing on different levels and fail to appreciate the true beauty of the art (the portrait); this results in a sense of distraction and misunderstanding.

I think Williams' poem "Red Wheelbarrow" essentially sums up his style:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white