William Carlos Williams The Imagist Essay, Research Paper
It is said that people can create art in their unique way to express themselves. William Carlos Williams tried to capture the direct image of the object and cloud out its surroundings. He attempted to focus the poem on the subject in order to eliminate any irrelevant responses from its surroundings. Through language and imagery, William Carlos Williams uses certain objects in the world that would be poetic no matter how directly they are presented. He accomplishes this using imagism.
According to Webster?s Encyclopedic Dictionary, imagism is a theory of poets in America who believed that poetry should use common speech, create new rhythms, and include a clear, concentrated, and precise image (955). Williams kept his poetry fixed to the environment around him. Although he would use American speech and images, it was filled with repetition and unusable material. He would not be able to resort to emotions as most poets could. If he were, the reader would most likely get confused and would only have a vague understanding of the poem. With all the weakness within his sources, he needed to be able to battle the environment while focusing on the object. He thought to himself that it would be unachievable ?without invention of some sort, for very good reason that observation about us engenders the very opposite of what we seek: triviality, crassness and intellectual bankruptcy. And yet what we do see can in no way be excluded (Guimond 37).?
A wise choice, Williams decided to stay with the American topics. He ended up ?creating? a method that allowed him to use materials and other objects from his world. Amazingly, he was still able to use this method to stay at par with other Imagists? methods. Williams would use any nearby materials and illustrate them in a succinct style. Jules Laforgue was another author using a similar style. Williams admired him for ?building upon the basis of what is of value to the man in the welter as he found it, and a rigid exclusion of everything else (Guimond 38). ? He also admired Edgar Allen Poe for the same style. ?It is a fight to borrow nothing from the scene and to put all the weight of effort into the writing. (Guimond 38).?
What exactly composes an image and how exactly do you put them together to develop a poem? Obviously, one is to start out with lines. Unless the object is incredibly simple, the lines start getting long, and out of control. It has gotten so complex that the object cannot be focused on anymore and the image is lost. Williams avoided this by merely breaking the image down to its simplest parts. They will all add up to the final image, but it will never be lost within itself (Ostrom 110).
?To a Solitary Disciple? is a good poem to use as an instruction for an imagist poem. It is a ?teach-by-doing? poem in where it does not just talk about the things in the poem, but actually accomplishes it within itself. The poem is so clear and lucid that ?it is in no sense an imagist poem or a plea for imagism; its sole relation to imagism is in its instance upon clarity of image and its own accomplishment of that clarity (Ostrom 13).? Williams began these imagist poems by laying out the groundwork of his style. He sought out the distinctiveness in the ?thing? and avoided any minor details. They would be unneeded until the poem has distinguished the ?thing? and was properly structured (Ostrom 14).
According to Alan Ostrom, Williams believes that every person?s ?action, life, and stability of truth? is based upon the ?useful knowledge of things rather than the illusory surface of actuality (17).? This is the main reason why Williams focuses so much on this ?thing.? He wants the uniqueness of the object, and it must include qualities that will separate itself from the rest of the poem.
Williams tries to play with the readers mind by using actuality (perceived with the senses), reality (may be unperceived), and ideal (what we wish) within his poems. He searches within his writing to see where the reader gets a positive image of something. When he finds that he is able to poetic with the negative image, he flips the progression and displays an image of an ?unreality.? This will leave the reader to resort to their imagination to seek what the reality truly is (Ostrom 19).
In the first and second stanzas of ?To a Solitary Disciple,? Williams wants the ?person? to choose the statements that will lead them to reality. As a throw-off, those stanzas contain unimportant information about actuality. In the next two stanzas, he focuses on the reality of the steeple and the ornament. In the fifth and sixth stanzas, Williams uses a combination beginning with two forms ?eaten moon? in ?the protecting lines,? and having the actual colors of slate and stone distorted by ?the light colors / of morning.? In the last stanzas, he has completely contrasted the realities of the objects to the ?oppressive weight? and ?jasmine lightness (Ostrom 20).? These changes are similar but different but ?in light of our usual concepts of humanity and its agencies of regulation (whether secular or spiritual), certainly implies a sad disjuncture between what is and what we believe (because we wish it to be so)(Ostrom 20).?
A similar poem by Williams, ?The Red Wheelbarrow,? is a good example of an imagist poem. This is the shortest and most renowned poem that Williams has written.
Since it has been recognized as a stanch contribution to modern poetry, and can now be accommodated without strain among many other similar poems by Williams and by others, a contemporary reader can gain a sense of its original impact only by putting himself in the position of the reader of some forty years ago. (Brinnin 23)
The first and second lines set up the tone for poem. ?So much depends upon? is an amazing truthful line. By the end of the poem, the reader can recognize that ?so much did depend? on the red wheelbarrow; it was the poem. In the next two lines, the flamboyant color of red illuminates the line. Wheelbarrow is also split between the lines:
a red wheel
Williams is keeping this poem monosyllabic and is breaking every idea to its simplest terms to keep the object more in focus. The fifth and sixth lines use ?glazed? to help ?paint? a visual picture. The rain on the wheelbarrow has altered its appearance and has given it a ?new? image. The last two lines introduce a new color, white, to stand out against the red that was introduced earlier. With the addition of this new color, the poem is complete (Gale Research 3).
This poem shows why Williams was a master of letting readers become aware of things in the world. His concept ?no ideas but in things? has required the readers to forget about beliefs in the world around them. The ?things? that they forget will make them focus on the object in the poem. They will see the object itself, and see that it does not represent anything; the object is the poem (Ostrom 21).
Williams has the red wheelbarrow, the rain, the white chickens in the poem because they are part of the world around him. The meaning of these ?common? objects exists in its reality and in its spot in our ?experience (Brinnin 23).?
In Williams? poems, he presents man as the center of his world. This can be seen if one was to think that the wheelbarrow had to have been built by someone and the chickens had to have been domesticated. If the wheelbarrow were another object, the poem?s significance would be changed completely. According to Alan Ostrom:
The order caught in the poem, of the whole world suddenly centered about these objects, would be different; it might be equally true and equally useful, but, focusing as it would upon other objects and their different intrinsic qualities, it would not give us the same information about the real nature of the world. (22)
In closing, Williams was an imagist poet. Through language and imagery, he uses certain objects in the world that would be poetic no matter how directly they are presented. Williams created a style that allowed him to use materials and other objects from his world. He also uses actuality, reality, and ideal themes to let the reader use their imagination in the poem. ?To a Solitary Disciple? and ?The Red Wheelbarrow? are 2 good examples of an imagist poem. ?To a Solitary Disciple? was a ?teach-by-doing? poem where it told you exactly how to write a poem within itself. ?The Red Wheelbarrow? is a 100% true imagist poem and stands as a perfect example. Brinnin says ?The poem is being an object; it must be the purpose of the poet to make of his words a new form: to invent, that is, an object consonant with his day (Brinnin 30).?
Brinnin, John Malcolm. William Carlos Williams. St. Paul: North Central Publishing Company, 1963.
Guimond, James. The Art of William Carlos Williams. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1968.
MacGowan, Christopher. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1986.
Ostrom, Alan. The Poetic World of William Carlos Williams. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966.
Webster?s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Random House, 1996.
William Carlos Williams. Exploring Poetry Computer Software. Gale Research, 1997.