Williams: Spring and All

Williams reads at The Library of Congress 1945

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Williams-WC.php

Spring and All

By William Carlos Williams

 

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

In 1923 Williams’ collection “Spring and All” was published. The opening poem “Spring and All” or sometimes “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital” illustrates Williams’ belief that out of the post-war disorder, fresh new poetics unburdened by historical restrictions will emerge.

 The poem is about a person walking along a road by a hospital on a early spring day. Signs of winter are everywhere but the freeze is slowly melting.

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf 

One by one objects are defined—

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 Williams describes spring’s arrival as “the profound change.” Spring arrives with new, changing life, as did the rapidly changing world of the early 20th century. Williams sees in the depressing, disordered, and constantly changing post war world the potential for renewal. This change is profound--the door is opened for new sounds new art and new thought.

 

saap

 

Williams is by no means purely an optimist. He acknowledges the difficulties, tragedies, and dislocation as well as the potential for new work free of old constraints. The opening line of “Spring and All”, “By the road to the contagious hospital” is a reminder of death, of sickness, of sadness. The contagious hospital stands as an active  threat. Williams also acknowledges death and disruption through the presence of winter in the poem.

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines—

It is out of the stagnant death of winter that the new life of Spring is born. For Williams, new unrestrained art forms are dependant on disorder and the disintegration of the old. He famously said:"If you are going to write realistically, of the concept of filth in the world it can't be pretty."