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William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) was a Puerto Rican poet closely associated with modernism and imagism. His work has a great affinity with painting, in which he had a lifelong interest. In addition to his writing, Williams had a long career as a physician practicing both pediatrics and general medicine. He was affiliated with what was then known as Passaic General Hospital in Passaic, New Jersey, where he served as the hospital’s chief of pediatrics from 1924 until his death. The hospital, which is now known as St. Mary’s General Hospital, paid tribute to Williams with a memorial plaque that states “we walk the wards that Williams walked.” (Wikipedia)

On September 17, 1883, William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound.

Pound became a great influence on his writing, and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams’s second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where he sustained his medical practice throughout his life, Williams began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.

Following Pound, he was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement, though as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.

His influence as a poet spread slowly during the 1920s and 1930s, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot’s “The Waste Land”; however, his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970).

Williams’s health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963. (poets.org)

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Yesterday I got out my copy of Viggo Mortensen’s book of poetry Coincidence of Memory and did a post about it. When I first received that book I had a hard time understanding some of what Mortensen had written. I didn’t relate. Imagine my surprise then, yesterday, when reading through it again after several years I seemed to have gained a new perspective about some of his writing. I have to attribute that to really searching for poems and poets I like for Friday Favorites. And I’ve realized that sometimes it just takes someone else explaining a poem for me to go, “Well duh! Now I see it.” And that’s what happened with this little poem of William Carlos Williams. Here’s what 17-year-old Lindsey Ward, a student in Brooklyn, New York, had to say about it.
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This poem is one of my favorites because it is so clear and well put. It’s not just talking about roses. The poem manages to capture the struggle between cynicism and a retained enthusiasm and appreciation of life, however brief life may be. The poem takes this idea which I could babble confusedly about for hours and hours, and tells it neatly in a simple handful of lines.

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I get it now!

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The Act

There were the roses, in the rain.
Don’t cut them, I pleaded.
““`They won’t last, she said.
But they are so beautiful
““`where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once,
““`she said,
and cut them, and gave them to me
““`in my hand.

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Picture Source: medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu

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