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The Fact

Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems , by William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1962.

There is no simple way to speak of this book. It is so singularly the work of a man, one man, that it moves thereby to involve all men, no matter what they assume to be their own preoccupations.

What shall I say, because talk I must
                      That I have found a cure
                                          for the sick?
I have found no cure
                     for the sick
                                           but this crooked flower
Which only to look upon
                      all men
                                           are cured . . .
("The Yellow Flower")

The insistence in our lives has become a plethora of plans, of solutions, of, finally, a web of abstract commitments—which leave us only with confusions. Against these Dr. Williams has put the fact of his own life, and all that finds substance in it. He had earlier insisted, "No ideas but in things," meaning that all which moves to an elsewhere of abstractions, of specious 'reliefs,' must be seen as false. We live as and where we are. It is, for example, literally here:

First draft of a review published in The Nation , October 13, 1962.


The World Contracted to a Recognizeable Image

at the small end of an illness
there was a picture
probably Japanese
which filled my eye

an idiotic picture
except it was all I recognized
the wall lived for me in that picture
I clung to it as a fly

What device, means, rhythm, or form the poem can gain for its coherence are a precise issue of its occasion. The mind and ear are, in this sense, stripped to hear and organize what is given to them, and the dance or music Williams has used as a metaphor for this recognition and its use is that which sustains us, poets or men and women.

But only the dance is sure!
make it your own.
Who can tell
what is to come of it?

in the woods of your
own nature whatever
twig interposes, and bare twigs
have an actuality of their own

this flurry of the storm
that holds us,
plays with us and discards us
dancing, dancing as may be credible.
("The Dance")

It is equally that music which informs our lives with a coherence beyond their intention or apparent significance. In "The Desert Music" (the title poem of an earlier collection [1954] included in Pictures from Brueghel , as is also Journey to Love [1955]) this music is "a music of survival, subdued, distant, half heard. . . ." And against the external music of the juke-box, band, or whatever, the "nauseating prattle," Williams puts "the form of an old whore in / a cheap Mexican joint in Juárez, her bare / can waggling crazily. . . .":

       What the hell
are you grinning
to yourself about? Not
at her?


    The music!
I like her. She fits

the music     .

And again, finding the form of no shape, no identity, "propped motionless—on the bridge / between Juárez and El Paso—unrecognizeable / in the semi-dark. . . .":

                                   But what's THAT ?
                                                                  the music! the
music!  as when Casals struck
and held a deep cello tone
and I am speechless     .

The dance , the acts of a life, move to that music , the life itself, and it is these which it is the poet's peculiar responsibility to acknowledge and recover by his art:

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      .

                    And I could not help thinking
                    of the wonders of the brain that
                    hears that music and of our
                    skill sometimes to record it.

Coming then to the later poems, what can be said now is that there is all such truth, such life, in them. I cannot make that judgment which would argue among the poems that this or that one shows the greater mastery. I think there must come a time, granted that one has worked as Williams to define the nature of this art, when it all coheres, and each poem, or instance, takes its place in that life which it works to value, to measure, to be the fact of. As here:

To Be Recited to Flossie on Her Birthday

Let him who may
among the continuing lines
seek out

that tortured constancy
where I persist

let me say
across cross purposes
that the flower bloomed


struggling to assert itself
simply under
the conflicting lights

you will believe me
a rose
to the end of time


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