William Carlos Williams
Williams presents the reality of poverty among a great portion of the American society. Within Williams’ work of Selected Poems, he not only reveals the trapped lifestyle of those living in poverty, but he also represents the horror of the war between social classes along with the coinciding war on the poor. Williams’ use of plutonic images among these poems provides powerful meaning to his argument of American societal values, claiming the men of America to be wealth seeking and those who fail to find wealth are of less importance.
In contrast to this, Williams also uses his poems as a voice for the poor, asserting their lifestyle of simplicity and revealing the value they see in objects wealthy America disregards. Through his work of Selected Poems, William Carlos Williams brings about the harsh reality of what America has become and views it as a betraying place, a place not living up to its promise of equality and opportunity. He represents the imagination of those longing to find something better in life for themselves in a world that is not solely made up of subliminal beauty, regardless of what it may seem.
He fixates on the unwillingness of America as a nation to change what it has become and societies lack of concern and motivation to assert this change. Among his work of Selected Poems, Williams’ poem, “Elsie”, emphasizes on the war between classes, however, closely dives into the imaginations’ yearning for a better life. Through Williams’ concentration on Elsie, a nanny he and his wife hired, we see her symbolically embodying America as a whole. Williams’ creation of a fictional lineage for Elsie in the poem represents his idea of everyone descending from “devil may care” men.
Within this poem, Williams blames the lifestyle of poverty these people have become associated with on their lack of education. We see this first hand through his words stating, “and young slatterns, bathed/ in filth/ from Monday to Saturday/to be tricked out that night/with gauds”. Williams is referring to a lifestyle of prostitution many women of poverty have been forced to result to as a way of survival. This chosen unfortunate lifestyle, he claims, is linked to lack of education.
He supports his argument of the imaginations’ hunger for a better life through describing these women as dressing flashy, as a means to hide their poverty from the world. This supports my claim that imagination of a better life is the sole determination among poor America. Still pertaining to “Elsie”, Williams represents poverty stricken America through the image describing their clothes as rag-like. His poem states, “sheer rags succumbing without/emotion”. Here, Williams using the term “sheer rags” as a metaphor of these poor women, claiming they have nothing but rags.
Overall, pinpointing what little materials these women, the poverty stricken population as a whole, survives off of. While Williams brings about many effects poverty has on society, he fixates on the idea of possibility being hard to find among a lifestyle of poverty. He claims marriage is the only true outlet to this lifestyle of poverty; “Unless it be that marriage/perhaps/with a dash of Indian blood/will throw up a girl so desolate/so hemmed round/with disease or murder”.
Lastly, Williams also touches on America’s lack of motivation to change not only societies view on poverty, but also the poverty itself. We see this when he states, “No one/to witness/and adjust, no one to drive the car”. Through this, Williams is arguing America does not seem to care or reveal any want to change these problems. He is using the image of the car and viewing it as aimless, coinciding this view with his sense of America as a nation. This relates back to my claim of societies lack of motivation to see the reality of America.
America’s unwillingness to offer opportunity and comfort among those living in poverty is also revealed through Williams’ poem, “Proletarian Portrait”. Williams paints the image of a working woman with her hair slicked back, standing in the street discovering a nail in her shoe that has been hurting her. Williams’ uses the nail as a metaphor for America. He states, “Looking/intently into it/She pulls the paper insole/to find the nail/That has been hurting her”.
He symbolically relates the nail in this working-class woman’s shoe to America, claiming that no matter how hard she works in her shoes, that nail is always going to be there, stopping her from doing her best work and harming her feet; just as no matter how hard she tries to break free of her lifestyle of poverty, the rest of America is unwilling to help her succeed and in return, harming her and leaving her stuck in this life of poverty. This relates back to my claim of America’s unwillingness to accept the harsh realities of poverty and take action to change these realities.
In contrast to Williams’ depiction of poverty as a negative reality one lives, he also highlights unexpected benefits this lifestyle brings about through his poem, “To a Poor Old Woman”. Through this poem, Williams touches on the idea of what impact the little things in life can have. For instance, he states in this poem, “Comforted/a solace of ripe plums/seeming the fill the air/they taste good to her”. He reveals that although this woman is not rich, the little things in life, such as the taste of a plum, are seemingly “rich” in her eyes.
Disclosing the idea that the rest of America whom is not experiencing poverty would not value such a small object in the way this woman does. In this poem Williams depicts the image of a woman eating plums out of a paper bag, while sitting on the street. He turns this unhappy image around by describing the woman’s emotion towards the experience she is having; claiming that the plum tastes so good and you can see this through in her face. This gratitude is something of great worth because it not only reveals a satisfaction in the little things in life but it also reveals an appreciation those living in poverty can attain.
This relates back to my claim that Williams is using his poems as a voice for those living in poverty and revealing the happiness the simplicity in their life can bring about. Coinciding with this sense of happiness simple things bring about among those living in poverty, William’s poem, “Apology” creates the same affect. Through this poem, he is attempting to depict the everyday person, and although they may not be wealthy, they are “rich” with pride; which is something of great value. We see this through his statement, “the set pieces/of your faces stir me—leading citizens—but not/in the same way”.
This is Williams’ attempt to argue that although these everyday people are not well-know among society and do not belong to wealthy America, both they and Williams take pride in what they do and value the hard work they put forth everyday just to get by. Williams’ line, “your faces stir me” is a very powerful one, as it reveals to America just how admirable hard work is, no matter who you are and what class you belong to. This also relates to America growing into a society of betrayal and not valuing the aspect of equality.
Williams also creates a sense of equality and normalcy that the imagination desires in his poem, “The Sun-Bathers”. Through this poem, he is focusing on the people feeling the effects of the Great Depression, however, writing about everyday people. For instance, he presents “the tramp”, “a young man” and “a fat negress”. He uses the image of them sunbathing in a positive way, as if to depict a sense of leisure and relaxation. When rich America reflects on the part of society living in poverty, the idea of leisure is not one that comes to mind.
This idea of leisure gives the poor a sense of unexpected dignity. Williams is attempting to avert from the popular image of pathetic and pitiful and give the poor a more positive image. Williams attempt to forestall this negative image of the poor also coincides with my claim that this reason for poverty is because society is unwilling to care or do anything about it. America as a whole, not just wealthy America, has a negative outlook on the poor and their lifestyle and is unwilling to improve this outlook.
In turn, those living in poverty began to see the way America negatively views them, causing the poor to see themselves as a negative thing as well. Through “The Sun-Bathers”, Williams is attempting to deteriorate this negative connotation America has on the poor by giving them an equal footing with the rest of America. While I have focused on Williams revealing both America’s unwillingness to improve or care about poverty and the lack of possibilities poverty offers to those experiencing it along with the unexpected benefits it produces, they all relate to one another.
Through his works, Williams is attempting to present to the world the harsh reality of poverty in hopes that it will bring about motivation in the rest of America to create change. He does this through touching on the imaginations longing for a better life and presenting the lack of possibilities poverty offers. On the other hand, he highlights upon the underlying benefits of poverty through attempting to not only equalize those living in poverty to the rest of America but also reveals the poor’s appreciation for the little things’ a concept that is highly valued.
These two different aspects relate to one another because it is Williams’ way of drawing attention to the poverty stricken society of America and hoping this attention will ignite change. Much of William Carlos Williams’ poetry reflects upon the class was throughout America, but Williams greatly emphasizes upon this in his poem, “The Yachts”. Williams’ reference to “the yacht” throughout his poem is his use of plutonic imagery to symbolize the rich America. He reveals the inevitable class separation through his statements, “contend in a sea which the land partly encloses” and “In a well guarded arena of open water”.
Through these images, he is enforcing the idea that the wealth these people have acquired have created for them a sheltered lifestyle; sheltered from the aspect of poor America. This certain sheltered lifestyle is also a contributor to America’s unwillingness to notice the harsh realities of poverty. Furthermore, Williams symbolically represents the poor percentage of American society by stating, “shielding them from the too heavy blows/of an ungoverned ocean which when it chooses/tortures the biggest hulls”. Williams is claiming that this “ungoverned ocean” is the chaos of the rest of the world.
Williams uses the races yachts engage in as a metaphor for the game of status America participates in; viewing the game as a competition. The game of status that is only played by the social elite group in America. Williams furthers this separation of the classes, almost creating two different worlds, claiming these races are held in the protected environment wealthy America choses to live in. This relates back to my claim of Williams using plutonic imagery to represent the class war and the war on poverty. William Carlos Williams sees America as betraying and not living up to its promise of equality among all peoples.
Williams sees the reality of the world as not only a place of subliminal beauty but also a place of harsh reality. He feels it is up to poetry to bring about this harsh reality to America. Through art and all it represents, Williams hopes his poems revealing the harsh realities of those living in poverty will provoke change among America. This hope that is the backbone of his poems is Williams’ possibility of abolishing poverty as a persistent social problem as well. If not completely abolishing poverty and all it entails, at least drawing attention to the situation, and creating a will to change.