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William Carlos Williams 1921

Author Biography

Poem Text

Poem Summary



Historical Context

Critical Overview



For Further Study

“Queen-Ann’s-Lace” appeared in William Carlos Williams’s fourth published collection of poems, Sour Grapes, in 1921. With its keenly observed and passionate images of flowers and women, this poem constitutes—along with “Daisy,” “Primrose,” and “Great Mullen“—the book’s well-known floral quartet, an example of Williams’s Imagist style. “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is a love poem that shifts seamlessly between the image of a woman, imperfect and impassioned, and that of the beautiful weed also known as the wild carrot. The comparison of the beloved to a flower is nothing new: “My luve is like a red, red rose,” wrote Robert Burns in the late-eighteenth century. Reading in this tradition, it is tempting to say that Williams’s white field of wild carrot is simply a metaphor for the sexually aroused female body. But it is not as simple as that. Like many Williams poems, this one resists easy one-to-one correspondences and challenges the traditional uses of metaphor. On the other hand, the poem also contradicts what Williams himself said of it: “Straight observation is used in four poems about flowers ..... I thought of them as still-lifes. I looked at the actual flowers as they grew.” No one reading “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” the famous “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or the epic poem Paterson would doubt that Williams knew how to look at things. But there is little “still” and little about the life of flower, woman, or even poetry itself, in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.” Williams’s “straight” looking broke ground as a new way to handle the poetic line and image. But there is much more than “straight observation” at work here, as this poem’s last words tell us. Beyond what can be seen is the mystery of whiteness, silence, “or nothing.”

Author Biography

William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 17, 1883. He died in the same city at age 79, on March 4, 1963, having married, raised two sons, and maintained a respected pediatrics practice, all the while living the intense life of a poet at the cutting edge of a new aesthetic. Few poets have been as committed to the “local” as Williams. Rutherford, the Passaic River, and his home at 9 Ridge Road have become synonyms for William Carlos Williams’s devotion to the here and now. Many other major writers of his day— including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein—left the United States in the 1920s for the fertile artistic life of Paris and London. Upon returning from his own visit with his wife to Europe in 1924, Williams confessed that even though “Paris has gotten violently into our blood in one way or another” it was not enough to keep him there. So he and Florence returned to Rutherford, their children, his medical practice, and to a clearer sense of the direction he wanted his own art to take.

Williams Carlos Williams was born to William George Williams, a British perfume merchant who, according to his poet son, “never got over being an Englishman.” His mother, Raquel Hélène Rose Hoheb Williams, known as “Elena,” was a temperamental woman of French, Dutch, Spanish, and Jewish descent who showed little interest in speaking fluent English. Elena’s passion for the arts and Europe provided her sons an exposure to painting and music that was lacking, in her view, in the daily life of Rutherford. When William and his brother Edgar were young teenagers, Elena insisted on returning to Europe for a while and sent the boys to various schools in Geneva and Paris, hoping they would become fluent in French. Instead, the boys floundered, and they returned to New Jersey to attend Horace Mann High School, one of the best public schools on the East Coast.

Another important feminine influence on William Carlos’s young life was his grandmother, Emily Dickinson Wellcome. While Elena Williams appeared aristocratic, exotic, and somewhat aloof

as a mother, Emily Wellcome practically raised William and Edgar herself and was a source of stability, fierce practicality, and, not least, a colloquial English that would help “tune” Williams’s ear to American speech. Elena and Emily thoroughly disliked each other, but their counterpointed influences gave profound dimension to the feminine presence and images in Williams’s poetry, no less in the five-book poem Paterson than in the short lyric “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.” Later, Florence “Floss” Herman, Williams’s wife, became yet another source of inspiration for the feminine idea in his work, as well as a steady source of support for her husband’s literary life in the midst of disapproval from family and from Rutherford itself, where, she said, “he was misunderstood and parodied.”

At Horace Mann High School, Williams began preparing for a “scientific” career that eventually led to his practice of obstetrics and pediatrics. But under the encouraging teaching of “Uncle Billy” Abbott, Williams also began to enjoy reading the classics, especially the poetry of Milton, Coleridge, and Keats. And “out of the blue, with no past,” as he described it, came the “thrill” and “discovery” of his first poem: “A black, black cloud / flew over the sun, / driven by fierce, flying / rain.” His passion for literature and the arts grew at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was enrolled in the medical school. There, Williams met Ezra Pound and the literary circle that helped him transform his first serious poetic efforts—imitative, “bad Keats,” as he put it—into an art that depended on close attention to the drama of common things and ordinary people, the rhythms and sounds of the immediate. Meeting Pound “was like B.C. and A.D.,” said Williams. Out of Pound’s “Imagist” insistence on clear, exact, concrete language, and natural rhythm, Williams forged his own aesthetic, summed up in his famous dictum, “No ideas, but in things.”

In the busy decade between 1910 and 1920, Williams established his practice, married, moved to 9 Ridge Road, had children, and published his first three volumes: The Tempers, Al Que Quiere!, and Kora in Hell: Improvisations. Sour Grapes, his fourth volume of poetry, was published in 1921, and contained many “imagist” poems such as “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” and the poignant “Widow’s Lament in Springtime,” another poem in which woman and white flower are the central images.

Until the final years of strokes leading to his death, Williams’s artistic output was prodigious: more than fifty volumes of poetry, novels, short stories, plays, essays, autobiographies, and translations, besides countless magazine articles and reviews. In between patients, Dr. Williams wrote lines of poems on prescription pads or typed in short bursts, using the time and materials at hand. An urgent house call might drive him away temporarily from a poem and out into a blizzard, but his devotion to the human body and the body of language were not distinct, in his way of living. Speaking of his patients, Williams said, “We begin to see that the underlying meaning of all they want to tell us and have always failed to communicate is the poem, the poem which their lives are being lived to realize.” The beauty of person and poem is never “so remote a thing.”

Poem Text

Her body is not so white as
anemone petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass               5
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span               10
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being           15
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—       20
or nothing.

Poem Summary

Lines 1-3

The title of this poem is the name of a common wildflower, but the first words of the poem, “her body,” immediately give it a human dimension. The comparison of woman to nature is common to every time and culture, but these lines particularly recall Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” his famous parody of Petrarchan love poems: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun / Coral is far more red than her lips’ red .....” The Renaissance Italian sonneteer Petrarch used exaggerated metaphors to express the beauty of his beloved and of his suffering in love. In elaborate images he might express, for example, how her eyes shine brighter than the sun and her cheeks outbloom the rose. Shakespeare’s poem exposes the “false compare” of those images and depicts instead a woman whose beauty lies in the truth of her love. Both Shakespeare and Williams establish from the beginning that their love is real, not ideal, and the beloved is quite human and imperfect, not an abstraction of beauty. In both poems, the loved one is described in terms of what she is “not”; here, she is neither as white nor as smooth as the anemone, and the lover knows this through sight and touch, the two dominant senses of the poem.

In line 2, because “nor” is placed at the end of the line and is set off by a dash, it is given great emphasis: this woman-flower is clearly not “so remote a thing.” These lines are a kind of signature for Williams’s art in its passion for the “here and now.” He writes not about “remote” things, but what he can actually see and touch. The “white” of this flower is approachable in its impurity. Williams’s great love and knowledge of painting emerges in his attention to color, and in this poem, white dominates the palette.

Lines 3-6

Line 3 contains a caesura, a pause or break in the line determined by the meaning and natural

Media Adaptations

  • A four-CD set titled “In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry” (1996) features more than one hundred British and American poets reading their own work, including Williams reading “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “To Elsie.” The set is available from Rhino Records, Word Beat.
  • Well-written information about Williams, including an audio link, picture, and bibliography can be found in The Academy of American Poets’ website: http://www.poets.org/LIT/POET.
  • Williams reads selected poems in 1954 for a Caedmon audio recording. According to the Poet’s Audio Center, from whom it can be ordered (www.writer.org/pac), the recording was made not long after Williams suffered from a stroke, “and it shows.”
  • The Watershed Archive Series has compiled several recordings of Williams reading poems that range from his first work to his last, selected to reveal his major themes and images. The People & the Stones: Selected Poems is available through the Poet’s Audio Center (www.writer.org/pac).
  • A comprehensive 15-tape set of every existing recording of Williams, The Collected Recordings, is available through the Poet’s Audio Center, who says that the project is not complete, and more tapes will be forthcoming.
  • The Voices and Visions series of videos has produced William Carlos Williams in Volume 1, available from Mystic Fire Video.

rhythms of speech. Here, one sentence ends and the next begins, and the poem expands suddenly from the exotic flower that it isn’t to the whole field of flowers that it is. The feminine presence is now vast, wild, and fierce in her fertility, “taking / the field by force.” This image, too, turns upside down the one-dimensional idea of a woman as a fragile flower in a glass vase. The diction, or word choice, is both formal and colloquial just as the flower at hand is both “Queen Ann’s lace,” refined and delicate, and the “wild carrot,” dynamic, earthy, and strong. Its stalks are sturdy and tall, dominating the grasses that share the field.

Lines 7-13

These lines continue that fluid shifting back and forth between the language of “lace” and “carrot,” between “is” and “is not,” and between flower and woman. The result is dynamic description, not static definition. We learn that each flower on the multifoliate stalk has a purple “mole” at its center, and thus prevents absolute “whiteness, / white as can be.” Furthermore, it is a “mole,” not a “star” or “jewel”—Williams’s diction reinforces the sense that the beloved’s imperfections are essential to her erotic attraction. Like a double exposure, the lover’s touch comes into play as a way of “seeing” the flower’s dimension: A “hand’s span,” not inches, is the unit of measure, implying that her body has been measured by his touch. There has been direct contact, not just dreamy imagining, and the proof is in the “tiny purple blemish” that remains “Wherever / his hand has lain.” One can just as easily imagine the sun caressing the flower with its warmth as the poet-lover caressing the beloved. But whether Williams was first inspired by a woman and reminded of a flower, or vice versa, is irrelevant. It is important to see that neither flower nor woman is reduced to a tool of comparison for the other, but that, instead, the poem expresses a kind of erotic contact with both. For Williams, the erotic was an integrating force.

Lines 13-19

Here the poem becomes intense and breathless in this long sentence with its vibrant verbs and words that run “enjambed,” or without break, from one line to the next. Williams seamlessly blends his observation of the “erotic” growth of Queen Ann’s lace—each tiny flower in the cluster emerging from its raised stem, white and open to the sun’s rays—with human desire at its height. But the “white” of this desire is a paradox. White reflects the entire color spectrum and is thus a symbol of presence. It is also the color of silence and absence. At its height, the caressed field of flowers is a “white desire” perfectly full, but also completely “empty.”

Lines 20-21

Any attempt to sum up this poem as a lyric “about” sex or flowers is forestalled by the last two lines. If anything, “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is “about” desire in many dimensions and contexts—not only the mutual desire of flower for sun, or woman for man, but of poet for poem. There is no creation, in nature or art, without a “white desire”: this is the fundamental eroticism that runs beneath all of Williams’s work. The passion and awakening he observes in a field of Queen Ann’s lace is “a pious wish to whiteness gone over,” that is, completely “given over” to life in its fertile possibilities. (In this context, “pious” does not mean “hypocritical,” but instead reflects its older sense of “holy observance” or “reverence.”) In the last line, “nothing” is as paradoxical as “white,” and the poem therefore rejects any attempts at a tidy interpretation. If the “or” of the last line is read as a contrast to what comes before, then “nothing” implies defeat and absence. In a word, it is life or death, all or nothing. On the other hand, the poem also supports “nothing” as simply another name for that “pious wish.” As such, this “nothing” is not the defeated self. It is desire, fully surrendered, emptied, and waiting for possibility and plenitude. It is the letting go that invites life to begin.


Language and Meaning

The metaphor is one of the most important tools of language. It enables us to describe one thing in terms of another, when “straight” description is neither sufficient nor desirable. In the original Greek roots of the word, “metaphor” means “change-bearer”: it transforms perception by means of language. It reimagines the world in words. When “like” or “as” is used to draw attention to the comparison, it is called a simile, as in Robert Burns’s famous lines, “My luve is like a red, red rose.” “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” begins with a personification, a kind of metaphor in which a nonhuman thing is given human attributes. At first glance, Williams seems to be engaged in a rather commonplace poetic activity, saying on some level that a woman is like a flower and a flower is like a woman.

However, Williams was not content to use language and metaphors in traditional ways. And he was especially aware of the sentimental, worn-out expressions for flowers, women, and love. He even parodies Burns’s image, because the rose produces such automatic associations. With tongue in cheek he wrote, “My luv / is like / a / greenglass insulator / on / a blue sky.” When metaphors become worn out and all the freshness of the comparison

Topics for Further Study

  • Look closely at three different “still life” paintings. Observe the artist’s use of color, perspective, and composition. What do they say about the artists’ relationship to those objects? What emotions are suggested? Write an imaginative description or dialogue between each artist and one or more objects in the painting.
  • Write a poem about an ordinary object in the style of William Carlos Williams. Engage not only “straight looking,” but also feeling.
  • Williams was a doctor as well as a poet, and some critics have suggested his flower poems are “medicinal.” How so? Flowers and herbs have been part of healing practices since ancient times. Trace the history of two or three common flowers in their medicinal use. If you are so inclined, accompany the writing with botanical illustrations.
  • Investigate the work and life of two or more of the following writers: William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Ezra Pound. Then, write a one-act play for stage or screen revealing their character and basic artistic stance, as well the contrasts between (or among) them.
  • Read numerous poems in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams and create a visual collage or montage of Williams images.

dissipates, they become “cliches” and can only numb or manipulate human feeling.

Williams was interested in freeing language from the burdens imposed by centuries of poetic formulas for rhyme, meter, and subject. After all, not many have made a common weed the subject of a love poem. To liberate language in poems meant restoring the rhythms of ordinary speech, the direct contact with things and, not least, the rich dimensions of human feeling. In the process, Williams questioned the traditional hierarchies and distinctions between the metaphor’s tenor (the thing being compared, e.g.“luve”) and its vehicle (the term of comparison, e.g. “red rose”). He would not reduce one thing to serve another. Flower and woman are so fused in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” that neither can be said to be the “vehicle” of the other. “No ideas but in things,” Williams insisted. And, because he followed his own maxim in this poem, there is no choice—both flower and woman either emerge from this poetic lovemaking whole, “or nothing.” Williams removes both flower and woman from the confining “still life” of traditional language and plants the interpenetrating images in a field, where language can explore its own growth organically, taking the field “by force” of its own necessities, not those imposed by custom or rule.

Love and Passion

By every account, William Carlos Williams was just as impassioned a doctor as he was a poet. Love of the human body and love for the “body” of language were never distinct in Williams’s life. Both engaged him in the art of healing, of “making whole.” The healing power of art is illuminated in poems that mend the split between art and experience, body and spirit, self and world, ideas and things, sex and love—all of those either-or “dualisms” that separate, compartmentalize, and fracture perception and experience. The poem can be a healing force, bringing what was fractured back into a relationship of wholeness.

In “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” that healing force is love. The poet’s love of the flower brings his entire attention to bear on that single thing of nature, so that no detail is overlooked, neither in the flower’s color and growing form, nor in its movement. This absorbed focus is no different from what passes between two lovers in their attention to every “hand’s span” of the other’s body. Being near the beloved is crucial and involves all of the senses. In this and countless other poems, Williams bridges that very short gap between sensory and sensual. The world we can apprehend through sight, sound, touch, and taste is also a world we can love. Love is a matter of “contact,” an important word in the vocabulary of Williams’s art. There can be no such thing as love in the abstract, “nor / so remote a thing.” The flower’s folk name, “wild carrot,” gets its name from the carrot-like odor of its root, a fact known only through contact, from being near. In the second half of the poem, love is heightened to erotic passion, until all that was separate in the field, “one by one,” becomes “a single stem.” Such love involves surrender, letting go, until the entire field and its intertwined images of woman, flower, and poem, is a “white desire.”

Art and Experience

William Carlos Williams loved art, and many readers have noticed the “painterly” aspects of Williams’s writing, especially in his poems’ close observation, careful use of color, and visual arrangement of words and lines. Williams said that he thought of “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” and the other flower poems in Sour Grapes as “still lifes,” but if so, they are “still lifes” in the lively style of Cezanne, with his sensual, vibrant colors and dancing contours. Williams closely followed the work of modern artists such as Duchamp, Demuth, Dada, Picasso, and Cezanne. The painters he admired were those who took great risks to move art out of textbooks and into the realm of immediate experience.

Cezanne rebelled against the style of art that represents objects on the canvas as though they are merely painted reproductions of the thing. He wanted to go back to the “beginning” of perception and explore the basic form of the object—cone, cylinder, or sphere—as well as the colors as they are actually seen, not as they “ought” to be thought of, according to aesthetic rules or theories. Williams liked the fact that Cezanne really looked at things, as though the painter were the very first to see the object or scene. That was being truly “original,” Williams said of Cezanne, to be able to toss off all the layers of perceptions and prejudices maintained by certain “schools” of art with their theories and rules. Williams believed Cezanne painted as though he were Adam, naming first things, and he believed poets must do no less. They must really see, wide-awake and impassioned, and utter “first words.” Art must not be remote from the pulse of life.

Williams’s insistence on the unity of art and experience is born out in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.” The poem takes the flower out of the “museum frame” in the first two lines by mixing the white in his palette with the colors of a common field and giving it an impasto, not a smooth surface. White and whiteness dominate the palette of this poem, but it is not a hothouse white, “white as can be.” This perennial beauty is wild and its lacy white open to weather, set off against the earthen browns and greens of field grasses, and “blemished” by a “purple mole” at each blossom’s center. Williams has “composed” this portrait of the wild carrot not only with color and form, but with verb and feeling, as the form, the very “fibres of her being,” “stem by stem” respond to the impassioned caress of the sun, of the lover’s touch, of the poet’s gaze. The poem fuses noun and verb, art and experience, giving new definition to “still life.”


Since “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is written in free verse and lacks the ordering patterns of formal meter or rhyme, Williams has to depend on other elements of sound and sense to shape the poem and give it “music.”

The first half of the poem is a series of descriptive statements—five sentences that tell what this flower-body both is and is not. Clauses are punctuated both in the middle of lines (caesura) and at the end of lines. The verbs in this part of the poem are largely verbs of being, not action, and together with the punctuation, they tend to slow the pace of the poem. But the picture is far from being “still.” Amidst the facts of whiteness are planted verbs of “force,” preparing the reader for the powerful awakening that occurs in the second half of the poem.

The long sentence that comprises line 13 to the end of the poem builds its breathless, erotic strength on the short phrases set off by commas, as well as by the unifying force of the word “stem,” which doubles both as the main verb in line 16 and the climactic noun in line 18.

Williams also uses trochaic rhythm to great advantage. The trochee is the poetic “foot” or stress pattern called “falling,” “running,” or “dancing,” since it consists of an accented, followed by an unaccented, syllable and sonically mimics those movements (as in “over” in line 20). The trochaic accent thus “falls,” whereas the “iambic” foot characteristic of the traditional sonnet “rises” in its pattern of unaccented-accented syllables (as in “today”). The words “empty,” “single,” “cluster,” “pious,” “whiteness,” and “over” are each trochees that carry the rhythm headlong toward the precipice of passion in the last two lines. Trochaic rhythm came naturally to Williams; he loved the dance and avoided the closure of formal poetic rules. In 1948 he said, “We do not live in a sonnet world; we do not live even in an iambic world; certainly not in a world of iambic pentameters.”

Historical Context

America in the 1920s—both time and place— seems an unlikely context for a pastoral love poem such as “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.” The years between World Wars I and II were characterized on many fronts by disillusionment, despair, and upheaval. The “War to End All Wars,” while officially over in 1918, had left its own dark legacy of violence, poverty, and social disruption across Europe. In the United States, amidst breathless advances in technology and transportation, there was also an atmosphere of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Ezra Pound’s cry at the turn of the century to “Make it new!” could not have foreseen the challenges to the human spirit in the wake of The Great War’s mass carnage and psychic disturbances. But by 1920, in his poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly,” Pound was admitting “disillusionments as never told in the old days, / hysterias, trench confessions, / laughter out of dead bellies.” For the artist, “making it new” must call now upon resources of language, color, and image capable of expressing the chaos and fragmentation of modern life.

In that regard, one of the most important poems not only of the 1920s, but of our century, is T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Eliot explained that it began as “the relief of a personal .... grouse against life,” but the poem goes beyond the nightmarish images of personal dissipation to a bigger critique of a civilization in decay. The poem’s form tells much: it is a ragged collage of unconnected conversations, scraps of quotations, broken images, Babel-language, and meaningless allusions. If a centerless poem can be said to have a center, it is paradoxically a self unselved and scattered across a meaningless universe.

William Carlos Williams was nothing short of enraged by The Waste Land. Its publication in The Dial in 1922 was at the stormy center of one of the most dramatic and divisive artistic quarrels of the 1920s. In his Autobiography, Williams said that “Eliot’s poem .... wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust..... Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt that we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit.” What Williams refers to in his accusation is rooted in their crucial aesthetic and philosophical differences. Simply put, Eliot traveled; Williams stayed home. When Eliot heard “Make it new,” he held a broken mirror up to Western civilization. When Williams heard “Make it new,” he held a lamp up close to the faces of patients in Rutherford. To read Eliot well and penetrate his complex webs of allusion requires a vast,

Compare & Contrast

  • 1920: Warren G. Harding was elected president of the United States, and Calvin Coolidge, vice-president. In 1923, while still serving his term, Harding died of an embolism amidst rumors of corruption and scandal.

    1963: On November 22, President John F. Kennedy becomes the fourth U. S. President to die by assassination. Kennedy’s death shocked and grieved the nation.

    1999: In February, the U. S. Senate acquitted President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relative to Clinton’s rumored sexual affair with White House aide Monica Lewinsky.

  • 1921-1922: In hopes of reducing the chance of another multinational war, nine treaties were signed at the Conference for Limitation of Armaments among the United States, France, Japan, and Great Britain to reduce weapons proliferation.

    Today: The United States, in concert with the United Nations, is using military force against Iraq for its continued defiance of weapons inspection.

  • 1922: Dr. Alexis Carrel discovers leukocytes, also known as white corpuscles or “white cells,” the agents present in blood that help protect the body from infection.

    1961: The Journal of the American Medical Association reports the first statistical evidence linking smoking and heart disease.

    1995: In a risky cross-species experiment, a 38-year-old man infected with the AIDS virus receives an injection of cells from the bone marrow of a baboon. The cells are thought to be AIDS-resistant and would therefore boost his failing immune system.

almost encyclopedic knowledge of history and literature. The foreground of Eliot’s Waste Land is the “unreal city” of London, but its backdrop is dense with the ghosts of European history, far-flung times, places, and voices. Williams thoroughly resisted a poetics that either required an elite knowledge or took its images and forms from “museums.” For him, the modernist revolution lay in fresh attention to the givens of American life and speech—“plain American,” he said, “which cats and dogs can read.”

Thus, while many of America’s writers drifted among the major cities of Europe, Williams chose to be “at home,” shaping an imagist poetics into a voice and line distinctly American. The time was ripe for such a voice, for at the same time Williams was writing “Overture to a Dance of Locomotives,” the United States was “making new” a national identity that had just emerged from international conflict and was flexing its economic muscles, even while its psyche grew more complex and disturbed in the face of accelerated change. A production economy turned into a consumer economy, as crucial progress and inventions in transportation and communication increased America’s mobility. By 1923, 15 million cars were registered, the number of household radios had jumped from 5,000 in 1920 to more than 2.5 million by 1924, and transatlantic telephone service was opened in 1927 between New York and London. Before the war, the United States owed European nations more than four billion dollars. By war’s end, other nations owed the United States a debt in excess of ten billion dollars.

With newfound confidence in this prosperity, unprecedented numbers of Americans began to take risks and invest in the stock market, many on credit. Within a few short years, share prices had soared above their real value, and investors sold their stocks in panic. The resulting stock market crash in October of 1929 began the period known as the Great Depression. Vast stockades of personal and institutional wealth were reduced to rubble, and by 1932, 25 percent of the nation was unemployed. The effects were felt disastrously in Europe, where Americans had heavily invested. The economic suffering left over from World War I was only exacerbated by troubles across the Atlantic. Many historians believe that the combined social and economic woes across Western Europe and the United States made the field fertile for leaders who promised a new order. That would take the form of Adolf Hitler in Germany, of Mussolini in Italy, Churchill in England, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States.

Meanwhile, Williams, Eliot, and Pound continued to practice their conviction that poetry matters in a world full of chaos, cruelty, and rapid change. The body of the world in those years was far from ideal: “not so white as / anemone petals nor so smooth.” Well into the first half of the century, they continued “making it new” in their own, often disparate ways. “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is therefore quite at home in a world that must either allow what is real and present to take “the field by force” or be reckoned “nothing.”

Critical Overview

Many years after the publication of Sour Grapes in 1921, Williams recalled that “to me, at that time, a poem was an image, the picture was the important thing.” “The picture” so perceptively and sensually composed in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” has stimulated many discussions about the relationship between the images of a field of wild carrot and the feminine body. Is one a metaphor for the other? Can an imagist poem support metaphoric language? Does it reject it? Does it redefine it?

Some readers discuss the poem’s images in the traditional terms of metaphor, tenor, and vehicle. In Arthur Glowka’s view, as he wrote in The Explicator, the flower serves as the vehicle for the sexual encounter: “The field of Queen Ann’s lace becomes the metaphor for the touching of the woman’s body as the poet unfolds a set of one-to-one correspondences between a species of foreplay and a field of flowers.” In this way, Glowka has “privileged” the reality of the sexual encounter over that of the flower. Similarly, in The Explicator, Douglas Verdier reads the poem as a “Petrarchan conceit,” an extended metaphor characteristic of Petrarch’s love sonnets in which comparisons with the beloved are usually fanciful or exaggerated. But others have suggested that Williams has done just the opposite, as the opening lines suggest: “Her body is not so white as / anemone petals nor so smooth ....,” thereby echoing Shakespeare’s parody of Petrarch in “Sonnet 130,” which begins, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”

Other critics believe that an imagist poem such as “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” cannot even support the idea of metaphor, because the very act of making the flower a “vehicle” of the woman’s body (or vice versa) dissipates its presence as a real, observed thing and renders it an abstraction or “idea” of something else. Thus, J. Hillis Miller’s reading, in William Carlos Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays, closely follows Williams’s dictum, “No ideas but in things,” when he says Williams “experiences a woman and a field of the white flower not as metaphors of one another, but as interpenetrating realities.”

In The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams, Henry Sayre suggests that rather than eliminating the “idea” of metaphor altogether, “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” represents Williams’s ability to “reconceive” the metaphor and liberate its function in the poem: where metaphor is generally considered to be a means of evoking and defining the image (pinning down the flower, in this case), the image now becomes at once the nexus and generator of a whole range of metaphors. Brian Bremen echoes this perception in his William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture when he insists that “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” “generates analogous situations without reducing one—flower or wife—to the terrain of the other.” Those like Sayre and Bremen, who understand Williams’s “generative” use of the metaphor, are able to honor the poem’s immediate images and then go beyond— to Williams’s broader engagement with the processes of creation. In William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature, Ann Fisher-Wirth extends Williams’s passionate observation of flower-woman to his greater love for the world, “whatever her earthly form .... the other is ‘Beautiful Thing,’ in every moment broken and most whole.” These interpretations have taken in the greater context of Williams’s work, which was powerfully influenced by early-century revolutions in art, and which, in turn, set new directions for poetry. A poem such as “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is both a passionate observation of a natural phenomenon and also an image for the processes of creation. The poem itself becomes a “field” of ordinary flowers, fertile and open to possibility, stemming to a “white desire” for birthing art through what is at hand.


Kristina Zarlengo

Kristina Zarlengo, who received her doctorate in English from Columbia University in 1997, taught literature and writing for five years at Columbia University. A scholar of modern American literature, her articles have appeared in academic journals and various periodicals. In the following essay, Zarlengo describes Williams’s philosophy of poetic creation as it relates to “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.”

Plato, Biblical scribes, and other lovers of the idea that the contents of our world are the pale copies of some more perfect world of heaven or truth have often measured the virtues of art with a yardstick of verisimilitude—the more a depiction resembles its subject matter, the better it is. William Carlos Williams moved against such ideas. For him, the world is complete and real in itself. For him, art depicting the world should not be measured by its capacity to copy:

It is NOT to hold the mirror up to nature that the artist performs his work. It is to make, out of the imagination, something not at all a copy of nature but something different, a new thing, unlike any thing else in nature, a thing advanced and apart from it..... To copy is merely to reflect something already there, inertly..... But by imitation we enlarge nature itself, we become nature or we discover in ourselves nature’s active part. This is enticing to our minds, it enlarges the concept of art, dignifies it to a place not yet fully realized.

Just so, “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” gives us not flowers as symbols, nor flowers so intricately described that they are recognizable as some species that we pass on a stroll, but flowers described in strikingly spare language, described in conjunction with a woman’s body and a man’s touch. Above all, they are described.

Williams abhorred ideas in art. Yet his focus on the simple, the local, and the rhythms of American speech was deeply ideological insofar as he heralded and embraced the idea of no ideas. “No ideas but in things,” he declared in his long poem Paterson, coining a motto for the poetic tradition of Objectivism, which rejects symbolism—wanting the words themselves to stand more boldly than some secret they might be supposed to suggest, demanding a description of concrete objects not because they represent any larger idea or greater power, but for their own sake. The resulting austerity, evident in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” is even more so found in Williams’ notorious “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which reads, in full:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain

beside the white

This extreme simplicity—this opacity to interpretation, the finality of the words, the meek subject matter—are Williams’s trademark means for transmitting his things without ideas. Such a pure presentation of object is not so free of ideology as Williams seems to insist. With his poetry, we are thrown back on the words as much as on the objects from which they remain emphatically remote. We are thus left with words that are objects in them-selves—glimpses of language extending itself like a tree. Yet, the worth of his poems stems importantly from the words being unhinged from observed reality—operating not as mirrors but as a reality of their own. In poetry, and indeed in any language, operating without ideas is, ironically, a powerful idea in itself.

As well as having palpable words, “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is a vision: “Each flower is a hand’s span / of her whiteness. Wherever / his hand has lain there is / a tiny purple blemish.” The emphases in these phrases are not tactile, but visual—the purple of the blemish, the measure of the flower. The body of the woman described is tactile only insofar as it is not smooth. What it does feel like, we do not learn. If this field of flowers has a smell, we are not told of it; here is no taste, here is silence. But we are drawn, in words, a vivid picture: a field so flowery it has been taken like a battlefield—conquered by blooms, the white and purple flowers, the woman’s body that seems empty except for the flower stems of desire. “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is like a trompe l’oeil painting; it is a verbal optical illusion in which flowers and this white body’s flesh are the same. The body does not symbolize the flowers, nor the flowers the body—they are themselves, as well as each other; they are identical.

“I thought of them as still-lifes,” Williams said of “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” and the three other flower poems in his volume titled Sour Grapes. It is easy to understand his comparison of this verbal vision to a painting of flowers. But unlike an image, his poem unfolds in time, on the space of the printed page. No time actually passes in the poem; it is suspended. But the poem’s description in words happens

What Do I Read Next?

  • It is important to view “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” in the context of other poems written during the first half of Williams’s career. Volume one of the two-volume Collected Poems, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan, provides this perspective. From the earliest poems in 1909 to “The Last Words of My English Grandmother” in 1939, it contains all of Williams’s poems published both in volumes of poetry and singly in magazines and journals. With the exception of Paterson, volume two covers poems published between 1939 and 1962.
  • Those interested in what Williams has to say about his own life will enjoy his Autobiography(1951) and its many amusing, dramatic, and poignant stories. The book’s lively anecdotes contradict the poet’s opening comment that he had “served sixty-eight years of a more or less uneventful life.” A more specifically literary “autobiography” called I Wanted to Write a Poem is actually Williams’s half of a serial conversation with Edith Heal about the circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of his major works.
  • Williams was an unofficial but powerful “mentor” to many younger poets, including British-born Denise Levertov, who met an aging but still productive Williams in New York when she was in her early thirties. From him she learned invaluable ways of hearing American speech, seeing the world, and persisting in her work. This led, ultimately, to her own emergence as a major voice in American poetry. Their correspondence has been collected and edited by Williams scholar Christopher MacGowan in The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams(1998).
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a landmark poem of the twentieth century, was published just one year after Sour Grapes and provides a startling contrast to Williams’s imagist poems in form, language, imagery, and essential worldview. Where “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” reveals images of generativity and love, The Waste Land pronounces April “the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land.”
  • Many young American-born writers and artists set up residence in Europe during the 1920s, between World Wars I and II. Of them, Gertrude Stein said, “You are all a lost generation.” Ernest Hemingway was one of the most famous of that “Lost Generation,” and his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926) embodies the lives of those drifting expatriates in the character of Jake Barnes. William Carlos Williams and his wife visited Paris and many of those writers—including Pound, Hemingway, Joyce, and Stein—in 1924, but returned to Rutherford with the commitment to writing as an American, in America.
  • While in Europe, Williams worked on a collection of essays called In the American Grain(1925). Each essay deals with a figure, well-known or obscure, whom Williams believed played a role in shaping the character and conscience of America. Unlike most history texts, Williams supplies stories that revel in the ordinariness of figures such as Ben Franklin or George Washington, or which risk revealing their dark, less-than-heroic character. Williams’s idea of “how to be American,” says poet Denise Levertov, is bound up in the book’s essential “respect for otherness .... essential to poets.” By most accounts, it is Williams’s most notable work of nonfiction.

in time, creating motion in the present tense while creating the space the poem takes up. Thirty-five years after writing “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” he described his flower poems book as

a mood book, all of it impromptu. When the mood possessed me, I wrote. Whether it was a tree or a woman or a bird, the mood had to be translated into form..... To me, at that time .... the poem was an image,

“Williams’s achievement is often in merging what others have insisted is distinct. Refusing ideas seen through words, his poetry is a collage of ideas and images .....”

the picture was the important thing. As far as I could, with the material I had, I was lyrical, but I was determined to use the material I knew and much of it did not lend itself to lyricism.

Even lyricism, or the sound of the words, in this poem is secondary to the poet’s urge and to the picture.

The line breaks of “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” are also regulated by the demands of images and words. Line breaks are an extraordinarily important dimension of poetry. Traditionally, in verse written in English and most Romance Languages, these breaks are governed by sometimes strict metrical forms that specify how many beats—conceived sometimes as syllables, sometimes as accents—are to compose each line. The lines are further defined by their sound relations with other lines—in rhyme. The line breaks of “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” do not hinge on feet or syllable counts (although they are not irrelevant: all lines up to the dramatic last line have between six and ten syllables; most lines have three or four accented beats [trimeter or tetrameter]). The poem does not rely on rhyme. It is images and ideas—nearly all of which are split by the line breaks—that really regulate line breaks. Already, at the end of the poem’s first lines, we are left dangling with “as” and “nor.” We are pushed by a suspense, a desire to finish the idea or image, to the next lines. Or, as with “Here is no question of whiteness, / white as can be,” we are jolted from being told there is no whiteness, to learning there is total whiteness. The contradiction is crushed between the two lines. The final line is shocking—equal parts bravado and humility. “Either this field, and this body are as I say here, or they are not at all,” the poet seems to boast, but boast simply.

The accentuated sense of time in the poem is not any easier to decipher for its apparent importance to Williams. On one hand, he joined Imagist poets such as Ezra Pound in casting out metrical conventions for the kind of pure word economy and density of impression we get in Pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro,” which reads—in full:

The apparition of these faces in a crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Associated with the Imagists during the early part of his career, Williams later reviled their eschewal of emphasis on the poetic foot: “There is no such thing as ‘free verse,’” he claimed, no freedom from strict form. “Imagism was not structural: that was the reason for its disappearance,” he complained. At the same time, Williams detested traditional metrical forms—he begged and labored for verse stripped of all stodginess. “I propose sweeping changes from top to bottom of the poetic structure. I said structure..... I say we are through with the iambic pentameter .... through with the measured quatrain, the staid concatenations of sounds in the usual stanza, the sonnet.”

Calling free verse a contradiction on terms, the form-conscious Williams proposed in its place a variable foot, also called a relative foot—that is, a unit of beat less strict than the traditional iamb (taTA, as in the word “eclipse”), for instance. But a relative foot is no less a contradiction in terms than free verse. It seems at times that the strictness of form Williams espoused was a reflection of the great care he took in his poems’ form, a meter he embraced because it insists that his verse was rightly regulated and was serious. Despite his meter’s idiosyncrasy and occasional opacity, Williams was consistently adamant with regard to its magnitude: “Imagination creates an image point by point, piece by piece, segment by segment—into a whole, living. But each part as it plays into its neighbor, each segment to its neighbor segment and every part into every other, causing the whole— exists naturally in rhythm. And as there are waves there are tides and as there are ridges in the sand there are bars after bars.”

Williams’s fervent dedication to verse and writing—for he wrote not only poems, including the epic Paterson, but an autobiography, plays, historical studies, and novels—was not his only passion. A life-long physician, he practiced obstetrics in his native New Jersey, often producing poems from his desktop typewriter between delivering babies. Far from viewing his small-town home and profession as contrary to his poetic ambition, Williams insisted that it was locally, in the speech patterns of American English, and in contact with what he liked to call the American Grain, that a revolution in poetry similar to the early century’s revolutions in the visual arts and in science would take place. Literary critic Hugh Kenner summed up Williams’s accomplishment in a way that should have pleased the poet: “That words set in New Jersey mean less but mean it with greater finality, is Williams’ great technical perception.”

Williams’s achievement is often in merging what others have insisted is distinct. Refusing ideas seen through words, his poetry is a collage of ideas and images—in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace,” the body as touched field of flowers, or nothing; not so white, no question of whiteness, and white as can be. In his unfiltered focus on objects, Williams also merges the perceiver and the perceived; both the poet and the reader are alone with their perceptions, confronted not with naturalistic flowers, but with verbal flowers. “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” is like a painting for the blind. Voyeurs of Williams’s touch in entangling a woman’s body and a field of flowers—or perceiver and perceived, object and subject, American idiom and a certain strictness of time meeting space on the printed page—we discover that Williams plants the page with a desire for the world, among whose strange natural growths language flourishes simply. “As birds’ wings beat the solid air without which none could fly,” he promises, “so words freed by the imagination affirm reality by their flight.”

Source: Kristina Zarlengo, in an essay for Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 1999.

Douglas L. Verdier

In the following essay, Verdier praises Williams for the visual achievement of “Queen-Ann’s-Lace.”

William Carlos Williams’ poem “Queen Anne’s Lace” (1921) illustrates most effectively the influence of the visual arts—particularly, in this case, the Imagist school—on his poetry, and it emphasizes his credo “No ideas but in things.” Williams’ goal in this poem, like that of the Imagist painters, is to create a single impression by freeze-framing his subject at a critical moment and then selectively highlighting certain details of the scene, building them up layer upon layer, compressing them, intensifying them, until finally, the “thing” emerges in one’s consciousness as a single, unified experience in which the perceived whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “Queen Anne’s Lace” is just such a poetic canvas.

Taking as his subject a field of wild carrot blossoms, Williams creates for the reader a fusion of color and detail which fills the imagination with vivid sensations that merge to become, at once, both a portrait of pastoral beauty and a celebration of physical love, expressed through the tension between the delicate blossoms and the overpowering force that excites them.

He begins the poem with a personification (“Her body”), which refers to “a field / of the wild carrot” (11.3–4), but at the same time introduces a feminine presence which will be sustained throughout the poem through a Petrarchan conceit. The whiteness of the wild carrot is emphasized by contrasting it with another flower (“anemone”) that is a bit whiter and smoother in texture, but not markedly different in color. The flower’s whiteness is also contrasted with the grass, which provides a background above which the carrot blossom stretches. Williams uses these initial images in the opening lines to describe precisely the whiteness of the “thing” for the reader, since even white can come in varying shades.

Once the whiteness of the central image has been established, another contrast is introduced— the “purple mole / at the center of each flower” (11.8–9). The image suggested is that of a beauty mark, so fashionable in the eighteenth century (particularly during the time of Queen Anne, who is alluded to in the title) that aristocratic ladies routinely helped nature by pasting artificial beauty marks wherever they were needed. Ladies of Queen Anne’s day were supposed to have skin as white as the finest alabaster, and the use of these artificial marks served to emphasize their fairness by contrast. The suggestion of a beauty mark, coupled with the repeated emphasis of “whiteness,” serves to expand Williams’ conceit.

At the same time, the presence of the “purple mole” creates in the reader’s mind the connotation of an imperfection, albeit one which is often considered desirable. This interpretation is given some support when the poet uses the word “blemish” (1.13) to describe the purple center of the flower, but in this case the blemish results “Wherever / his hand has lain ....” (11.11–12). Now the “purple blemish” takes on a new meaning, amplifying the poem’s sensuousness by introducing a male hand that touches the white female body. This sensuous quality continues with the next line: “Each part / is a blossom under his touch ....” (11.13–14). At this point, one is tempted to believe that Williams is writing a seduction poem, with the whiteness of the flower symbolizing the purity of the female, and “his hand,” which injects an unidentified male presence into the poem, suggesting a violation or a loss of that purity. But to dismiss the poem thusly is to miss the subtle effect of the artist’s skillful blending of images and moods—it is to view the painting without “seeing” it.

Although the tone of the poem is quite sensual, and it is, in essence, a love poem, it is nevertheless a mature one. The “force” which takes over the field is not simply a one-sided display of carnal lust, but rather a mutual, shared desire which passes through the stages of arousal and climax until mutual fulfillment is achieved.

As “his touch” (1.14) gently caresses, the excitement builds. The increasing tension is apparent as the very “fibres of her being” (1.15) respond. Individual stems become nerves which are stimulated “one by one” (1.16) until the intensity of the sensations reach a peak, and “the whole field is a / white desire ....” (11.17–18). This is the climax toward which Williams has been building, and as it is reached, the images become fused in a unity suggestive of the culmination of an act of love. With this fulfillment, the excitement gradually subsides, slowly, part by part, “flower by flower,” (1.19)— the “wish” has been realized.

In the energy of the poem’s focal point, one is apt to forget that the subject of the poem is, after all, a field of common wild carrot flowers. But Williams does not forget. The field of blossoms has been there all along; only the focus has changed. As the intensity decreases, the field is gradually brought back into perspective, and one becomes aware once again of the “thing”—a field blanketed by thousands of tiny white flowers clustered so closely together that the impression is one of a single, large flower. But whiteness continues to permeate Williams’ canvas, suggesting perhaps that the kind of purity which dominates his pastoral scene is also essential in the sort of love such a scene brings to mind.

Source: Douglas L. Verdier, “Williams’ ‘Queen Anne’s Lace,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 40, No. 1, Fall 1981, pp. 46-7.


Bremen, Brian A., William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Cooper, John Xiros, “William Carlos Williams,” Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 54: American Poets, 1880-1945, third series, part 2, Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1987, pp. 533-75.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann W., William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

Glowka, Arthur, “Williams’ ‘Queen Ann’s Lace,’” The Explicator, Vol. 39, No. 4, summer 1981, pp. 25-6.

Halter, Peter, The Revolution in the Visual Arts and the Poetry of William Carlos Williams, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Hirsch, Edward, “Helmet of Fire: American Poetry in the 1920s,” A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Jack Myers and David Wojahn, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, pp. 54-83.

Mariani, Paul, William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Marling, William, William Carlos Williams and the Painters, 1909-1923, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1982.

Miller, J. Hillis, ed., William Carlos Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Sayre, Henry M., The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Verdier, Douglas L., “Williams’ ‘Queen Ann’s Lace,’” The Explicator, Vol. 40, No. 1, fall 1981, pp. 46-7.

Williams, William Carlos, The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, New York: Random House, 1951.

Williams, William Carlos, Selected Essays, New York: Random House, 1954.

Williams, William Carlos, Selected Poems, edited and with an introduction by Charles Tomlinson, New York: New Directions, 1985.

For Further Study

Bartlett, Jeffrey, “‘Many Loves’: William Carlos Williams and the Difficult Erotics of Poetry,” The Green American Tradition: Essays and Poems for Sherman Paul, edited by H. Daniel Peck, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989, pp. 134-154.

This essay develops from the conviction that Williams has brought poetry “back to its senses,” both literally and figuratively, in the way he restores authentic human feeling with its grounding in eyes, ears, and hands. There is nothing easy or sentimental about the work of love in Williams’s writing, says Bartlett. The healing force of love, an “erotic” relationship with the world, is not something that a poem can prescribe or legislate, for Williams’s poems are revelations, not representations, of love. Bartlett’s essay makes a major contribution to our understanding of love in Williams’s work, a crucial “force” both in his poetry and prose.

Bloom, Harold, ed., Modern Critical Views: William Carlos Williams, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

This collection of essays by some of the foremost critics of the last half-century represents an important range of viewpoints and concerns. With the exception of two essays about Paterson, most of these readings look at a number of works in order to discuss a particular theme, image, or stylistic issue unique to Williams’s art. Cushman, for instance, identifies Williams’s use of the trochaic measure as a metaphor: the poem as “dance.” Poet Donald Hall’s brief essay convinces us that part of the Williams legacy is “a visual method for capturing speech.”

Mariani, Paul, William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

In the process of chronicling the poet’s life, this enormous, but quite readable biography of Williams also traces the many paths of artistic and social change in the first half of the century. Considered a tour de force of literary biography, Mariani’s work is important for anyone interested in Williams’s life or in a successful example of how a biographer composes the “thousand thousand” pieces of a person’s life into a complex, human whole.

Whitaker, Thomas R., William Carlos Williams, revised edition, Twayne’s United States Author Series 139, Boston: G. K. Hall, & Co., 1989.

In this perceptive overview of Williams’s work, Whitaker builds his discussion of the poet’s development and themes on the metaphor of “conversation as design.” All of Williams’s work can be understood, Whitaker suggests, as a manifold “conversation” between his time and place and the landscape of his own feelings and consciousness. Chronologically and work by work, this book combines an awareness of criticism with brief, lucid readings of selected poems or prose passages. In the helpful style of all Twayne studies, it provides a compact chronology of the author’s life and publications as well as a selected bibliography of primary and secondary works.

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