Showing 1 - 10 of 23 annotations associated with Williams, William Carlos
In the time of house calls, the doctor-narrator is summoned to care for an ailing newborn. He discovers hospital-caused diarrhea and a severe congenital heart problem that can't be fixed. He also discovers the baby's fifteen-year-old sister, who has a bad case of acne and a direct, no-nonsense style that he finds very attractive.
The narrator's colleagues ridicule his interest in a family consisting of alcoholic and deceptive parents and a daughter who is not only chronically truant but notoriously promiscuous sexually. (To the narrator's enthusiasm about the young girl, his wife responds, "What! another?") In spite of these warnings, the narrator returns several times, probably without compensation, to check on the baby's diarrhea and feeding and to help the girl with her complexion.
The overworked doctor-narrator finds himself extremely irritated by the requests of a poor immigrant couple in their twenties to examine their infant. He spouts an alarming number of cultural and economic prejudices and tries to avoid seeing them. They persist, however, and the doctor examines the child, whom he finds healthy. The husband then asks if the doctor can examine his wife. The doctor flashes his anger again but agrees.
He finds her legs extremely bowed, probably from severe childhood rickets, and asks the husband about her history. It turns out that she had grown up in Poland during World War I and had lost all her family. As he hears of the woman's suffering, the doctor becomes empathetic, suddenly understanding the couples' fearful tenacity which had so annoyed him before. The woman responds in kind, and the doctor-patient relationship changes significantly for the better.
Summary:The eight-line poem frustrates expectations about poetry. It stands like a small aside, a voice suggesting in rather emphatic terms, "so much depends upon," that the seemingly simple, often overlooked elements of life are what really matters. In fact, the short aside is akin to the wheelbarrow and "white chickens" in the poem--essential, but easily ignored. Pay attention, the speaker advises, to the ordinary, to the quotidian.
The setting is the children's ward of a hospital in Paterson, N.J. during the Great Depression. Alternating between a cynicism born of desperation, and empathetic concern, the physician-narrator describes the sorry condition of his young patients, virtually abandoned by their parents. He muses that they would be better off left untreated so that they would not have to live the inevitably wretched lives ahead of them.
One child in particular has captured his attention. She is Jean Beicke, an eleven month old, malnourished, deformed girl suffering acutely from broncho-pneumonia. The nurses and he look after her, and she responds to their care by taking nourishment and gaining weight. This is tremendously rewarding and reinforces their interest in her, but to their consternation she continues to be very ill. "We did everything we knew how to do except the right thing." "Anyhow she died." The benumbed mother is persuaded to allow an autopsy; the physician wants to understand what went wrong although he "never can quite get used to an autopsy."
The postmortem uncovers an infection of the mastoid process which has spread to the brain. The narrator and the "ear man" berate themselves for having failed to take proper steps to identify and treat the infection. In the end, however, the physician is still unable to resolve the dilemma of wanting passionately to have saved his patient's life, and knowing that the life saved would have been one of misery.
The spirit of St. Francis of Assisi presides over the garden in spring. Hyacinths bloom, and abandoned bird nests are tucked away in the nooks and crannies. Young couples embrace: "St. Francis forgive them / and all lovers / whoever they may be." The scene then fast forwards to summer, when the lovers find themselves bewildered and "incredulous / of their own cure / and half minded / to escape . . . "
The idyllic garden has turned menacing, yet St. Francis continues to have compassion for the lovers who "resemble children / roused from a long sleep." One lover stands up unafraid in the sunlight "as her heart / beats wildly / and her mind / drinks up / the full meaning / of it." [139 lines]
The book is based on a series of conversations between Edith Heal and William Carlos Williams that took place over a five-month period in the mid 1950s. Williams had published more than 40 books (some of them mere pamphlets) between 1909 and 1957, the span of time covered in these conversations. The interviewer asked him to make biographical comments related to each book--what he was doing at the time, how the book came about, and how this particular work related to his development as a writer.
Thus, after Williams makes some introductory comments about becoming a poet, the book is arranged chronologically, with one to several pages devoted to each book from the privately printed "Poems" in 1909 to "The Lost Poems of William Carlos Williams" (New Directions) and "The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams" (McDowell, Obolensky, Inc.), both published in 1957.
In many cases, especially for some of the early pamphlets and, later, the "selected" and "collected" volumes, Williams’s comments are short and avuncular. However, his reminiscences about the major books are interesting and insightful, although, of course, they put us in touch with the persona that their author wished to reveal, and not necessarily with the "real" William Carlos Williams.
Typical comments include this, about "Spring and All" (1923), in which so many of Williams’s most famous poems were originally collected: "Nobody ever saw it--it had no circulation at all--but I had a lot of fun with it." (p. 36) Regarding The Knife of the Times and Other Stories (1932), he comments: "This is the first book of short stories . . . I felt furious at the country for its lack of progressive ideas . . . These people didn’t know anything about poetry, about literature. They were not interested in me as a writer, but as a man and a physician." (pp. 49-50)
Williams’s first Collected Poems appeared in 1934, "Needless to say, it didn’t sell at all." (Only 500 copies were made.) Williams finally broke into the world of commercial publishing with New Directions and his 1937 novel, White Mule (see annotation in this database). [At the time he was 54 years old!] New Directions subsequently published two other novels in The White Mule trilogy, along with short stories (Life Along the Passaic River) and his later volumes of poems.
Williams has a lot to say about his massive poetic project, Patterson, which was very well received in its first installment (1946), but became progressively less entrancing to the critics in Books 2 through 5. In Book 2 of Patterson (1948) he mentions first using his famous triadic variable foot, which he later developed fully in The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962): "From the time I hit on this I knew what I was going to have to do . . . My two leading forces were trying to know life and trying to find a technique of verse. Now I had it--a sea change." (pp. 82-83)
It is difficult to characterize this book, which consists of a series of roughly chronological chapters, each of which deals with a person or an event important in shaping (or representative of) "the American grain." Williams begins with Red Eric (Eric the Red), whose son Leif Ericsson "discovered" the North American continent, and continues with chapters on Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, De Soto, Walter Raleigh, the Pilgrims, Champlain, Cotton Mather, Daniel Boone, George Washington, and so forth.
In each case the focus is on character and impact--not so much "impact" on the historical panorama, but "impact" on the emerging and evolving American character (or grain). In that sense the book might be considered an impressionistic biography of the childhood and adolescence of the American spirit.
About halfway through the book in a chapter entitled "Père Sebastian Rasles" (p. 105), Williams steps into the narrative as a first person narrator describing events that occurred during "my six weeks in Paris." Here he connects the development of American literature, as exemplified by Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D. and other expatriates, to American cultural history, in this case the evolving conflict between the New England puritan culture and a Catholic influence that filtered down from Quebec (personalized in the form of the Jesuit priest for whom the chapter is named).
The clearest statement of the American grain occurs in a chapter called "Jacataqua." Consider this: "The United States without self-seeking has given more of material help to Europe and to the world . . . than have all other nations of the world put together in the entire history of mankind." (p. 175) "It is this which makes us the flaming terror of the world . . . with hatred barking at us from every sea." (p. 176) "America adores violence, yes. It thrills at big fires and explosions." (p. 177) And so forth. Williams’s observations remain pretty much on target in 2003, nearly 80 years after he wrote them.
A physician is called to visit a sick baby in an apartment in the poorer part of town. When he arrives, the baby is being cared for by a "lank haired girl of about fifteen," the child’s sister. The parents are out. The doctor is intrigued by the young girl’s forthrightness, the "complete lack of the rotten smell of a liar." He notices that she has a rash on her legs. She asks for some medicine to help her acne.
The doctor returns later when the mother is home. She speaks little English. Evidently the child had been in the hospital, but they had brought her home because she was getting worse with hospital-acquired diarrhea. The doctor examines the baby, discovering that she has a congenital heart defect, which is probably responsible for her failure to thrive. The doctor gives advice about feeding and prescribes some cream for the fifteen year old’s acne.
Later, the doctor’s wife and his colleagues comment on the baby’s family: they’re no good, they’re crooks, he’ll never get paid. In the end he does go back to the apartment. The baby looks a little better and the girl’s face is a little clearer.
Summary:Williams's autobiography recounts his life from his first memory ("being put outdoors after the blizzard of '88") to the composition of "Patterson" and a trip to the American West in 1950. The book's 58 short chapters epitomize the writer's episodic and impressionistic style, presenting a series of scenes and meditations, rather than a narrative life story.
In this chapter (no. 43) from his autobiography, Williams seeks to describe the poetry of medicine, the almost indescribable quality (Williams frequently refers to it as "it" and "the thing") that draws him to his practice. Clearly it is not anything medical-technical. He particularly disparages surgery and the idea that you can cure by merely cutting. Rather, it involves seeing each patient as "material for a work of art"(287), by which he seems to mean a natural showing of strong character or selfhood under pressure of difficulty. In a strong central passage Williams calls medicine "the thing which gained me entrance to these secret gardens of the self"(288).