William Carlos Williams – My new favorite poet

This week in ModPo we wrote about two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “Young Woman at a Window.” Version 1. Version 2. My essay on imagism follows. Before I get to that, I want to express my wonder at the William Carlos Williams works we have read in the course. I knew nothing of poetry prior to this class, but I’ve quickly grown to appreciate Williams’s work. In particular, “This is just to say” is wonderful on many levels.

The essay:

Both versions of Williams’s “Young Woman at a Window” use common language, are free verse, and describe non-traditional subjects – the first three tenets of imagism. The last three tenets of imagism, however, are better exemplified by the second version of the poem. Ultimately, it is this second version that better represents the principles of imagism.

The first poem uses loaded, non-descriptive words, such as ‘robs’ and ‘theft,’ taking it beyond mere description. The first word ‘while’ also gives the first version a sense of movement through time, rather than the still image of a moment. The first version also refers to the knowledge of the child, which of course cannot be shown in an image, as an internal state.

The second poem is much harder and clearer (the 5th tenet). The vagueness of the theft is removed, as well as the implied movement. The image is presented more holistically, clearly, without veering into the unclear territory of what the child may know.

The second version is also two lines shorter than the first – more concentrated, better defining the essence of poetry described in the sixth principle.

Despite relatively few differences between the two versions, the second is clearly more true to imagist principles. This demonstrates that in poetry, every word counts. Small changes can have a significant impact on a poem.

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