Williams, C. K. (Charles Kenneth)

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jul-22-1997


The poet grieves over his mother's death, "Gone now, after the days of desperate, unconscious gasping, the reflexive staying alive . . . . " He records the details of her dying, the details of his pain. He wonderingly asks himself, "Is this grief?" upon realizing that he is not making a scene, nor crying, nor wishing to follow her in death.

He realizes, though, that his grief is not just for his 80 year old mother who died in bed with make-up on her face, but for his mother-in-law's face and all women's faces and "the faces of all human beings, our own faces telling us so much and no more, / offering pain to all who behold them . . . . " His grief is grief for the earth, the flesh, the body, the mind, "and grief for the moment, its partial beauties, its imperfect affections, all severed, all torn."


This four-part, 51-line poem covers four full pages because of Williams' very long 22-25 syllable lines. This is a splendid poem to read aloud. Sometimes the lines march slowly, inexorably ahead, as in a funeral procession; sometimes the lines move in passionate spirals, like the wailing of mourners at a wake. The poem builds to an ecstasy in which the poet's grief is simply a drop in the well of the universe. Albeit much shorter and less varied, "Grief" is reminiscent of Kaddish, Allan Ginsberg's great poem of mourning for his mother (see this database).

Primary Source

The Vigil


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York



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