Mind, Mouth and Page – 41 (Birds and Flowers)

AG: I want to finish (these recent discussions on Charles Reznikoff) right now with a little last poem of (William Carlos) Williams, sort of summing it up, summing up the effort that both of them were making- “Birds and Flowers”. So, suggesting a still life, or suggesting the subjects he might write of, (or) that he might notice.
It is summer, winter, any
time –
no time at all – but delight
the spring up
of those secret flowers
the others imitate and so
become round
extraordinary in petalage
yellow, blue
fluted and globed
moonshaped –
in clusters on the wall.
And just now
you will not come, your
carry you another way, as
thought grown old – or
older – in
your eyes fire them against
me – small flowers
birds flitting here and there
between twigs
What have I done
to drive you away? It is
winter, true enough, but
this day I love you.
This day
there is no time at all
more than in under
my ribs where anatomists
say the heart is –
And just today you
will not have me. Well,
tomorrow it may be snowing –
I’ll keep after you, your
repulse of me is no more
than a rebuff to the weather –
If we make a desert of
ourselves – we make
a desert…
Nothing is lost! the white
glassy, linenwhite, crystalwhite
crocuses with orange centers
the purple crocus with
an orange center, the yellow
crocus with a yellow center –
That which was large but
seemed spent of
power to fill the world with
its wave of splendor is
overflowing again into every
corner –
Though the eye
turns inward, the mind
has spread its embrace – in
a wind that
roughs the stiff petals –
More! the particular flower is
So that’s what they were all trying to do – get that particular flower of perception blossoming in America – a whole phalanx of writers trying to find an American language, using an American local diction, trying to find the rhythms of their own talk – “Peggy has a little bit of albumen/ in hers” – trying to compose poems that are indistinguishable from our ordinary speech and perceptions that are indistinguishable from the actual perceptions of our ordinary minds, but which, when recognized and appreciated consciously, transform the entire feeling of existence to a totally new sympathetic universe where we’re at home, where we’re playful, where we’re generous – because the mind overflows with these perceptions and the perceptions are all generous, because they’re not blocked by anger. Actually, beginning, as Williams later says, a “new world” – “A new world is only a new mind” – A new mind, in poetics, is only a new set of words equivalent to what you’re actually able to use with your mouth when you’re talking, so you don’t twist your mouth and twist your brain and twist your so-called soul to strain for an effect of a universe that isn’t there. And that way, you don’t create paranoia, but dispel paranoia, because you’re reaffirming through clearly presenting your perceptions, the very same perceptions in the mind’s eye of others.
So, finally, it comes down to what Plato [actually Damon of Athens (sic)] originally said, that I quoted – “When the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake”. When the mode here of music, or prosody, returns to its normal order, then there begins a new direct perception of the soul – so that “noble is changed to no bull” – that you can see through hallucinated language, you have something to compare hallucinated language with, and you can see what’s direct contact – language that rises out of direct contact with phenomena, as distinct from language that rises out of overheated imagination or desire to impress, by writing something sounding “poetical”. So Williams becomes a standard for morality, in a sense, or a standard of normalcy of mind, a standard you can measure your own perceptions and sanity against – measure your own poetry against, to some extent – measure your own glimpses of what you see, what you recognize of what you see. Thus, actually, I think (Williams is) the true hero of the first half of the American century, carrying on the work of Whitman.
So we’ll carry on, considering (his work) in detail, as he would ask, then. We’ll consider more in detail from the middle period of Williams (in coming classes).

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