Sometimes image IS everything – just ask WCW. In “Young Woman at the Window”, William Carlos Williams presents us two poems with same title – only one holds up the Imagist Manifesto.
Poem I, at 29 words, begins with “While she sits there/ with tears on/ her cheek/ her cheek on/ her hand”.
It is written free verse as the manifesto requires (2.) however, it reads rather lyrical in its line breaks. The cadence is not new, it is rather sing-song.
“the little child/ who robs her” (the fourth couplet of poem I) fails to employ manifesto (1.) using “the little child” which is more decorative than just using “child”. The couplet as a whole reads more narrative than ‘hard and clear’ as denoted in (5.) of manifesto.
Over all, the first poem fails to be concentrated, concise. It presents more of a story than an image. An image is required per manifesto (3.) to render a precise poetic picture.
Poem II, pared down to 23 words, and reconfigured line breaks, meets all of the manifesto criteria. The first two couplets, each ending with the word “on”
(She sits with/ tears on/ her cheek/ her cheek on/)
the read is not rhyming nor lyrical.
If one reads poem II aloud, the free verse line breaks cause the reader to pause, the cadence feels new which address manifesto (2.). One is drawn via language to the image forming, not the story. Each image -“hand” “lap” “nose” “child” without any form of description beyond the word itself, stands on its own – it confirms manifesto (1.) in its exactness and common language.
Poem II ends with “pressed/ to the glass”. This ending is rather hard/ concise with a focus on object/image (manifesto 4, 5, 6) where as Poem I ends with “but rubs his/nose” which is soft and lacks conciseness. Glass itself as an image is hard – glass as a word reads precise. Nose as an image conjures soft – nose as a word lingers with its long vowel. These different endings choices cement that WCW was in full manifesto mode with poem II.
Neither poem utilized punctuation in their free form. Poem I is form focused where as II is structured, perhaps an example of proto-dada.
Variations of “Young Woman at the Window” allow WCW to demonstrate the Imagist manifesto in action. Version II shows that the complete essence of a poem can be changed via word choice, structure and concentration. (6.)
From an Imagist manifesto:
1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word, not the nearly exact, nor the merely decorative word.
2. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.
4. To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
5. To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.
(A few hours left before I need to post this as essay 2. Thoughts I’d post it here first, let it rest for a bit, and then give it one more shot before ‘show time’.)