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A Character for Love

The Desert Music and Other Poems , by William Carlos Williams. New York: Random House, 1954.

We can hope that the woman be merciful, a kind of repose (and our rejection in part) for that for which she attacks. And yet there is no woman either to be kind or to live with a kind man, and rightly. The man who would come to her comes with his own weapons, and if he is not a fool, he uses them.

That much might well be dogma—an apology only to those who have gone down before its alternative, the 'understanding.' It was this that Lawrence fought all his life, perhaps more closely (more desperately) than any man before or since. Because we can have no way to declare love, except by the act of it.

Here it is that Dr. Williams not so much rests as still persists—in that persistence which, because it knows itself (and will not understand), is love too.

There are men
               who as they live
                                fling caution to the
wind and women praise them
                and love them for it.
                                Cruel as the claws of
a cat        .        .

Black Mountain Review , Summer 1954.


You do not describe this thing, neither you nor I. Married, the world becomes that act, or nothing.

The female principle of the world
               is my appeal
                               in the extremity
to which I have come.

I think that much of this content (by no means to beg it) came from him from the first, and, to that extent, American poetry had something even Poe (whom Williams alone saw this in) could not in his own dilemma give it. It is interesting, certainly that, to read the last part of the Poe essay in In the American Grain —where Poe's attempt to register himself is so characterized as this persistence, this hammering at the final edge of contact.

And this is the same force of Williams' stories, the best of them I think, even that possible vagueness in the one about the returning doctor, at the friend's house (also a doctor), and of the friend's wife who comes in and sits there, in the dark, by the edge of the bed, lies down on it, because he cannot sleep.

                                      You are a woman and
it was
                   a woman's gesture . . .
                                       I declare it boldly
with my heart
                    in my teeth
                                      and my knees knocking
together. Yet I declare
                    it, and by God's word
                                       it is no lie.

The Autobiography , more than any of his other books, now, is the place where the materials of his work are given—not done, but there to be found and related, if that is the purpose, to their forms in his art. What the poem is—beyond his sense of this service as "capsule for punishable secrets" or including it—comes again and again to the fact of women. In the preface to the book he speaks of that "form" which men have given to his life, but it is women who have made for the "energy." And energy begins it.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
                    like a buttercup
                                       upon its branching stem . . .


save that it's green and wooden . . .
                     I come, my sweet,
                                       to sing to you.

For what reason, to sing, even to be a 'poet'?

                                                        I  am  a poet! I
am. I am. I am a poet. I reaffirmed, ashamed

Now the music volleys through as in
a lonely moment I hear it    Now it is all
about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
seeking to become articulate

There shall be no other judge—not judge, but she who will take it. And for that reason, that it begins where all things (mind you ) begin, the dance is the plain fact of contact, god help us.

You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why
does one want to write a poem?

                        Because it's there to be written.

Oh. A matter of inspiration then?

                                                               Of necessity.

Oh. But what sets it off?

                  I am that he whose brains
                  are scattered

At this point one turns, to laugh (ha), because it is what you wanted? Well, put it that here we are thrown out, not by Williams but by that which he knows, perfectly. We shall get no thanks for what we do, 'poets' or not. Nor can we lie down, asking it.

                                       There is, in short,
a counter stress,
                    born of the sexual shock,
                                      which survives it
consonant with the moon,
                    to keep its own mind.

We have had so much hope, both in love and in poetry, that I wonder what is or can be left. Yet put them together and you will have nothing at all. You cannot sit in a woman's lap, however comfortable. And, despite the humiliation, the door must be shut of necessity—until you can bang it down or open it.


You understand
                    I had to meet you
                                      after the event
and have still to meet you,
                                       to which you too shall bow
along with me—
                   a flower
                                       a weakest flower
shall be our trust
                   and not because
                                       we are too feeble
to do otherwise
                    but because
                                       at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
                   therefore to prove
                                     that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
                    that I could not cry out to you
                                       in the act.

Let us do what we will, generally—there will be no statement beyond this. It is fantastic, to me, that Williams at such a time as now confronts him should be so incredibly clear. Yet, what else to be—

                   Hear me out
                                      for I too am concerned
and every man
                   who wants to die at peace in his bed


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