Monday, January 2, 2023

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams (1883―1963) ― a significant imagist poet ― was also a family physician practicing in northern New Jersey. Though not a churchgoer, he respected the faith of those he encountered through life and art. He admired Francis of Assisi for his poetic originality, his love of the natural world, and as a model of forgiveness and generosity.

In his poem “The Catholic Bells” Williams said, “Tho’ I’m no Catholic / I listen hard when the bells / in the yellow-brick tower / of their new church // ring down the leaves…”

His parents had been active members of the Rutherford Unitarian Society ― and his father read Dante and the Bible to his sons. Williams applied the Unitarian phrase “Nothing that is not true” to his imagist approach to poetry. He sought truth in the natural world, and the lives of his patients living in the tenement houses he visited. His wife, Flossie, said, “the people there expanded his imagination, and I noticed over the years how much they healed him.”

From his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Williams is frequently quoted as saying:
-----------------------------------------------"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
------------------------yet men die miserably every day
-------------------------------------------------for lack
of what is found there."

The following poem is William Carlos Williams’ declaration of his belief in the incarnation.

The Gift

As the wise men of old brought gifts
---guided by a star
------to the humble birthplace

of the god of love,
---the devils
------as an old print shows
retreated in confusion.

---What could a baby know
------of gold ornaments
or frankincense and myrrh,
---of priestly robes
------and devout genuflections?

But the imagination
---knows all stories
------before they are told
and knows the truth of this one
---past all defection

The rich gifts
---so unsuitable for a child
------though devoutly proffered,
stood for all that love can bring.

---The men were old
------how could they know
of a mother's needs
---or a child's

But as they kneeled
---the child was fed.

------They saw it
---gave praise!

------A miracle
had taken place,
---hard gold to love,
a mother's milk!
------their wondering eyes.

The ass brayed
---the cattle lowed.
------It was their nature.

All men by their nature give praise.
---It is all
------they can do.

The very devils
---by their flight give praise.
------What is death,
beside this?

---Nothing. The wise men
------came with gifts
and bowed down
---to worship
------this perfection.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.