Whitman and Williams

Though the poetry of William Carlos Williams is a pretty drastic change stylistically from Whitman, I think there are a lot of similarities present in their works. They both seem very interested in the every-day workingman, possibly because he lives a more natural life or represents everything that made America great. This is obvious in Whitman’s Song of Myself, and we see this same pattern in Williams’ The Farmer, and To Elsie. In addition, both poets seem enamored with every-day language, and I think this really helps them describe things as they actually are, and gives them increased accessibility. This is obviously something Whitman wanted to do considering his high hopes for the effect Leaves of Grass would have on the country.

William’s form is also very experimental, and I think Whitman’s courageous progress in breaking form, allowed and sort of paved the way, for future American poets to experiment and find their own form. It is also very interesting that both these poets were largely unaccepted canonically during their own lifetimes, but now are elevated academically higher than most anyone in American poetry.

Specifically, Williams’ poem To Elsie seems to invoke Whitman in a dialogue about America. In many ways especially in the start of the poem, he seems to be weaving together this further industrialized, expanded, and populated America. Some of the images we seem positive: Jersey with its Isolate lakes and valleys, and men going to work for the railroad for the love of adventure.  These descriptions Whitman would have loved. But as the first line suggests, “The pure products of America go crazy!” this America is not so certain, together, or as optimistic. This first line reminds me of Ginsberg’s Howl, I wonder if he was thinking of it when he wrote his similar line, and maybe of Whitman too!

The majority of the poem seems to describe a very diverse fast moving and uncertain America, where many of the people are described negatively almost grotesquely. These themes seem very modernist. He ends his poem:

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Here we get a final image of an America who really doesn’t know what it is or what it is to be. Overall, we get a pretty grim outlook for America’s future. In addition, the speed of growth, industrialization, science, and technology, could all be thought of in reference to these ideas.

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One Response to Whitman and Williams

  1. Charles Carmody says:

    i found your connections between Williams and Whitman very interesting. Whitman truly was before his time, as his poems could go right next to Williams’ poems and people would think they were from the same time. The comparison is further interesting because Whitman was writing just before the industrial revolution and birth of modernism and is almost warning about this revolution, where as Williams is writing in reaction to industrialism.

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