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’.)


9 thoughts on “Make it new – WCW

  1. Aren’t you concerned that by posting your response here some of the ModPo students might use you as a shortcut to thinking on their own? Not that anybody is getting graded or anything….

    I think I kind of prefer version 1. It may be a bit more traditional for its time and a tiny bit more sentimental, but I like that “the little child doesn’t know” part.

  2. OML, Mark! You just gave me small heart attack (which is ironic since I’ve issues with breathing right now due to terrible head cold) deadline is in 2 hours — I had to double check.

    Hmm…doubt if anyone a) is waiting this long to compose their thoughts, b) would want to use my thoughts, c) signs honor code and would dare to copy! (besides, this is time stamped as my proof)

    I actually dig no. 2 – the compression is brilliant, esp. the use of glass at the end.

    (btw, please send me a link when yours is up, k?)

      • Thanks for link, Mark. I will read tonight.

        It seemed rather odd, to go from close read to bullet points which I thought just addressed structure and language. I just reread my ‘essay’ here and I realized those key points of Imagist theory I didn’t grasp until now. I hate to come across as so dense, but, meh, I’m just a cog after all.
        Glad you didn’t blow off for I enjoy reading your take on things! I do hope you continue!

    • WCW is one of my favorite poets, but I’m getting to the point (with this class) that I’m beginning to hate Imagism. Al’s “subject position of the speaker” has me flummoxed. He places the subject of the poem outside the window, and then calls that the “subject position of the speaker.” I don’t think the subject of the poem is outside the window at all. WCW clearly draws forth the opposition of inside to outside; it seems to me the subject of the poem is that hinge, that contrast, that dual view. We are as separated from what’s outside the window as the mother and child. Placing the speaker out there just complicates it more. I don’t have a clue what Al is talking about here. And I haven’t seen anyone else who does. Do you?

      • Just read your essay — brief, but you answered what our original assignment seemed to require! Your lack of enthusiasm certainly bled through since I know even your comments on WP are more detailed than what you offered. Btw, I say this not as a critique, but just that I do understand your viewing this assignment as rather dull.

        As for Al’s double speak so to speak, yes, flummoxed is a good word. When I’m reading his response to another’s response, it makes sense until I close read it again.

        The only things that I’ve cemented since the revelation of the rubric is that my interpretation that Imagist is devoid of narrative must not be thus for why would there be contemplation on who is the speaker (is that what you are alluding to re: ‘placing the speaker’ out there). Call is subjectivity (I guess) but to me that is a more traditional approach to poetry. This is where I question if I understand the concept of Imagist.

        I do think the Mother/Child to Madonna/Child is a rather brilliant idea. As I posted last night on my blog, when I read V2, in the back of my mind WCW broke it down so well using ‘on’ that I felt with each line I was stair-stepping the image in blocks of pane (I imagined Mondrian) i.e. a woman/a child behind thick black panes. It was my lack of drawing back from a pure literal read to find the ‘sculpture’– oy, missed the whole ironic iconic point.

        This is why I love and hate academia and poetry. Honestly, Mark, as one who has studied more of this genre than I…is it possible for an outsider to see ANY of this??? If no, does it change why WCW was a wonderful poet…

      • If I knew nothing about Williams before coming to this course I don’t think I’d be very fired up to learn more. Very little about what I love about his work is coming out in the videos, assignment or forums. If you look at some of the threads on the Williams assignment you”ll see that there’s more disagreement than agreement about what is going on in that simple little poem. And I don’t think Al F is helping to clarify much. I think an ‘outsider’ as you put it, looking in on this would soon run away screaming.

      • Well, Mark, I’ve only a brief reading of Williams before the start of this course, though I did skim a rather outlandish book written about Williams, Modernism and Medicine. (not sure if it was a dissertation with a university printing or what!) I shall read more of Williams in the future. I would love to know more, so direct away as far as interpretive reads go!

        As an aside, I just took Cosmos off my shelf…thought it may be a ‘fall’ time read (if I find the extra hours!).

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