Dear CR and all,
Response to several points.
First, Ken is right that a poet may do much more than they intend or
Second, a poem, nonetheless, is not simply what readers read. Williams
spent years and books insisting on poetry that presented the thing in
itself. It was a deliberate and life-long poetic theory, not an aspect
of one poem. A poem comprises an author, a reader, a thing represented,
and a representation. (See a full discussion of this in the section on
"representation" in CRITICAL TERMS FOR LITERARY STUDY. It's extremely
insightful on this and helps explain why students often imagine the poem
is anything they think it is, even if there is no basis for their
notions in the text.) So it is no more possible to exclude the author
and/or the text itself than to exclude the reader. A reader is
constrained by what is on the page, and the author put it on the page.
It is not simply a matter of intention; it is a matter of the
representation itself. Williams's poem is no more just whatever you
feel when you read it than "The Waste Land" is a poem about the serenity
of cows in a pasture in Vermont or the annoyance of cow pats. It just
doesn't have any Vermont cows or cow pats in it.
So your first premise is simply not accurate; responses are not the
totality of meaning and often they are not based in the text. And what
you call here your reading is not a reading but what you first described
as a reminder evoked by comparison.
Given that, Denise Levertov, in an essay on Williams ("The Ideas in the
Things") pointed out that Williams never said there were no ideas, only
that they were in the things. He deliberately and consciously avoided
symbolic methods and ideas not part of what he saw as the American new
way of seeing physical reality. Her point was that words carry meanings
whether one intends them or not. So the word "hyacinthine," for
example, may--in itself--evoke Greek ideals or even Eliot's hyacinths.
But that is to take it out of context. The bull is in captivity. He is
"ringed, haltered, chained/ to a drag." He has to nozzle grass to pass
the time away. He is milkless. The hyacinthine curls are matted
between his horns and his eyes as if his natural volence and activity is
closed off from his ability to see anything.
This is not an depiction of detachment or serenity but of a profound
imposed imprisonment. Bulls do not chain themselves or choose to do
nothing. A reading that looks at all the words and the bull itself
rather than a pre-imagined ideal cannot avoid that. And the latter
would not fit with anything about all the other intensely physical and
sensual imagery of Williams that Carrol noted.
Given the tendency of many on this list to insist on the reading of
Eliot through Eliot, and especially as a "lifetime's effort" it seems
odd that Williams is also to be read through Eliot when he detested
Eliot and all Eliot had done to poetry.
Third, Williams's reaction to Eliot was to the very notion of a long
European history as source that the notion of "detachment" and Eliot's
learning in Eastern religion would have created. Here is Williams on
"When I was halfway through the prologue [to KORA IN HELL], 'Prufrock'
appeared. I had a violent feeling that Eliot had betrayed what I
believed in. He was looking backward; I was looking forward. He was a
conformist, with wit, learning which I did not possess. he knew French,
Latin, Arabic, god knows what. I was interested in that. But I felt he
had rejected America and I refused to be rejected and so my reaction was
violent. I realized the responsibility I must accept. I knew he would
influence all subsequent American poets and take them out of my sphere.
I had envisaged a new form of poetic composition, a form for the future.
It was a shock to me that he was so trememdously successful."
Here is Kenner on Williams on Eliot: "After a third of a century had
passed, the mention of Eliot could still stir up in him a blind
Since Kenner wrote on both of them and admired both, his comparisons are
useful and interesting.
You may wonder why I am writing all this. It is because to treat
Williams's poem--or the work of any poet--as nothing but a touchstone
for one's own feelings and to dismiss everything the author DOES bring
to their creation is to dishonor creativity. It does matter what--in a
broad and intense sense--Williams was trying to do, just as it matters
that Eliot could find no poetry to work from except the French
Symbolists and the Elizabethans when he began. To ignore his symbolist
method would be to dismiss not one reader but an entire transformation
in poetic history.
And, for Ken, no--I am not having a double standard. I read Eliot's own
theory and recognize his own view of what he did and why and from what
sources. To disagree with much of what he thought is not to deny that
he thought it or to refuse recognition of, for example, the fact that he
wrote symbolist poems.
And this to Nancy Gish: a?poem is?there?for?a reader to read?
and share?their response with other readers -- there were many a
student/teacher?who?reciprocated my reading of it?-- that was
in a university in India many years ago -- and I'm sure
there will be many?elsewhere who will partake of my reading,
irrespective of what William Carlos?Williams thought of his poetry.
As WH Auden?said?(In Memory of WB Yeats) :?
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
And this to Carrol : it's a compliment to a poem's versatility
(of meaning)?if it?evokes different?things?in different readers,
and seems conformist to some, non-conformist to others.
And thanks, dear Gunnar, for sharing your excitement.
'The Bull' became an instant?hit with me too.
And not?least, thanks a lot, Ken, for your cogent remark,
"what an author thinks he or she is doing may or may not be
on the mark".
Moody friends. Drama queens. Your life? Nope! - their life, your story.
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