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The Artist -- William Carlos Williams

(Poem #213) The Artist
Mr T.
                            in a soiled undershirt
his hair standing out
            on all sides
                            stood on his toes
heels together
            arms gracefully
                            for the moment

curled above his head.
            Then he whirled about
into the air
            and with an entrechat
                            perfectly achieved
completed the figure.
            My mother
                            taken by surprise
where she sat
            in her invalid's chair
                            was left speechless.
Bravo! she cried at last
            and clapped her hands.
                            The man's wife
came from the kitchen:
            What goes on here? she said.
                            But the show was over.
-- William Carlos Williams
One of those 'slice of life' poems which are so incredibly difficult to pull off
convincingly... I suppose the problem is that most of our lives are terribly
boring and humdrum; it takes a poet to find beauty and meaning in them, to give
voice to 'the music of what happens' [1].


[1] A truly lovely phrase, don't you think? It's from Seamus Heaney's poem
'Song', Minstrels Poem #61

[Minstrels Links]

A Williams biography can be found at poem #83
along with the one poem of his that I've run before, 'The Red Wheelbarrow'.

More on Imagism can be found in the essay accompanying Amy Lowell's
'Generations', Minstrels poem #102

One of my favourite poems by an Imagist poet is Ezra Pound's 'The River
Merchant's Wife: A Letter', which you can read at poem #70

And of course, you can read all our other poems at


Re-reading the poem, I notice a distinct lengthening of the lines towards the
end. I'm not sure if this is intentional, but (this being a Williams poem) I
suspect that it is. And I can't quite put my finger on the 'poetic' effect of
this mode of construction... perhaps it has something to do with the rhythm of
the dancer and the tempo of the actions being portrayed. Comments, anyone?

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Greig said...

Thanks for sharing this William Carlos Williams gem. I am not sure what it is about the spare beauty of his poems, but I sincerely do love them. As you said in another post: I think it is because his poetry is devoid of furry animals and romantic bullshit. Kudos on a fun poetry site!
Check out my blog if you ever get a chance.

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Anonymous said...

what is the theme,tone and style?

Anonymous said...

We would like to know too, Anonymous... we really would... Also what are the poet's intentions? ♥

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