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3. Utopian Promise   

10. Rhythms
in Poetry

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- HD (Hilda Doolittle)
- T. S. Eliot
- Robert Frost
- Langston Hughes
- Claude McKay
- Ezra Pound
- Carl Sandburg
- Genevieve Taggard
- Jean Toomer
- William Carlos Williams
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

William Carlos Williams
[4996] Anonymous, William Carlos Williams (1963), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-109601].

William Carlos Williams Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams was the son of an English immigrant and a mother born in Puerto Rico. After studying in Switzerland and Paris, Williams returned to America permanently, and came to regard with disdain the vogue of expatriate life followed by so many other writers of his generation. In 1902, Williams entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and he later completed his residency in New York City. A practicing physician, Williams often wrote poetry in his office between visits with patients, and his verse bears the mark of a physician's precise, careful, and relentless seeing. Living and working near New York, Williams knew H.D. and other artists and writers associated with Greenwich Village, Harlem, and New England, and he maintained a life-long friendship with many of them, although they often disagreed heartily among themselves about the missions and direction of modern poetry. Ezra Pound helped Williams publish his first collection of poetry, The Tempers, in 1913. Williams would go on to publish many books of poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and an autobiography, but it is his poetry that has assured his fame.

Williams represents a strand of modernism that is markedly different from the work of expatriate poets T. S. Eliot and Pound. Unlike his contemporaries, Williams wanted to write poetry that used the American idiom and focused on the world available to him in northern New Jersey. When he wrote about art, he wrote from the perspective of an ordinary visitor in the gallery, not as an insider flaunting a special aesthetic education. He affirmed that poetry should sound like common American speech and should not take the form that Pound came to favor, a verse littered with esoteric allusions. The painters he favored were those a bit like himself, artists who celebrated the color and feel of ordinary life.

Williams's poetry is deceptively simple, and his verse can often achieve an austerity and surprise that link him to symbolism, imagism, and experimentation with haiku. Many of his poems, including the famous and brief "The Red Wheelbarrow" observation, depend on ingenious line breaks and visual organization for their poignancy. Williams's longest poem, Paterson, is an epic work that takes the industrial city of the title as its locale and chronicles the history of the people and place from its inception to the present. Williams draws on Joyce's circular structure in Finnegans Wake and echoes Eliot's use of the modern city in The Waste Land, but the specifically American diction and emphasis on the particular render it starkly original.

One of the most influential modern American poets, Williams received the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1963. His celebration of American colloquial speech and dedication to careful description are continued in the work of countless modern poets.

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