Meditation and Poetics – 5 (William Carlos Williams)

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

AG: Now, I’ll read a couple of poems by William Carlos Williams before generalizing further.

“Thursday” – How many people know that poem “Thursday” which I read year after year. Okay, so, it’s the sort of intersection point between poetics and meditation. Williams Carlos Williams, for those of you who don’t know, is maybe the most solid, grounded, practical, straightforward American poet of this century. So we’re using him for basic ground, to begin with, somebody that everybody can understand, an intersection point where everybody here can get it on together, those who don’t write poetry, those who do write poetry – this will make sense to everybody.


I have had my dream – like others –
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky –
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat,
air passing in and out at my nose
– and decide to dream no more.


AG: You all got that?
Okay, so we’ve all been in the same place here as this poem?
Student: Right
AG: Maybe you haven’t lost all your dreams yet.
Student:That was what I was thinking.
AG: You haven’t lost them.Just keep going. You’ll get there.You’ve got a couple of dreams left – [to another Student] You’ve got a couple of dreams left?
Student:A few more.
AG: Oh God!

Okay, so in this class, no dreams are allowed to be written as poems, except if you’re looking at them from the outside and saying, “That’s my dream?”, except if you’re looking at it as kind of an object. Like he (Williams) did, in a way. I’ll read that again – [Allen reads William Carlos Williams’ “Thursday” again] – That’s wonderful.


AG: So that’s … yeah it is. It’s amazing. When I discovered this, read it the first time with a background of sitting, I said, “How amazing that William Carlos Williams should be such a natural.”That is to say not that he’s a Buddhist, but that Buddhism should be so natural, or that meditation could finally come down to just some basic place in nature and that Williams also should have come down to that same basic place in Rutherford, New Jersey nature. So that actually it was like one world, discovering one world, and a door between what I thought were separate intellectual categories – the world of Buddhism and the world of poetry.But Buddhism isn’t Buddhism and poetry is not poetry.  I mean,  there is this place where we are now, together, considering where we are. And there are different reflections of it. Poetry generally is that laying out in a few words that sudden flash of recognition of where we are in the space where we are – a recognition, actually, or an acknowledgement, or a salutation – And here we are, whether centuries ago or right now.

Student: Allen?
AG: Yes.
Student: I just want to mention “careless”
AG: Okay.. Pardon me.
Student: How he stresses “careless” -“Careless” seems to (be)…
AG: Who?
Student: … such an important (word)…
AG: Who?
Student: Careless”.
AG: Who? the..
AG:Oh, Williams. Oh, Williams.
Student: … poem.
AG: Oh, “careless”  – it’s interesting. “I remain now carelessly..”
Student: What page are you on?
AG: Page two-hundred-and-two. “(I)t has come to nothing” – (his dreams have come to nothing) – “(I)t has come to nothing, so that/I remain now carelessly” – Actually, it’s a good question.
Student: Allen?
AG: “Carelessly”
Student: Is it hyphenated on the page?
AG: No. “Carelessly”.Well, he had been straining to get his dream (to) come true, but it didn’t come through so, “careless” – without care, whether it came true or not, any more
So, it’s the American “carelessly, whatever.He’s just standing on the ground carelessly – He’s not trying to do anything, he’s just careless.
Student: Does he…
AG: There’s a pun of sloppily, carelessly
Student: Yeah.
AG: … but there’s also quite exact and precise “care-less-ly” – without any longer caring, because he’s lost. So he doesn’t care any more.I had my dream and I lost it.– “I have had my dream – like others -/and it has come to nothing, so that/I remain now carelessly/with feet planted on the ground..” – That’s Sunday – like Sunday -The doctor’s off work, he’s in the park, he’s looking up at the sky, he’s got his feet on the ground, and there’s no motive, any longer.. There’s no push in any direction.There’s no pointing of his mind at anything – there’s no attempt to gain anything any longer.There’s nothing to be gained any more.There’s no more dreams
Student: Day off.
AG: Taking the day off, totally
Student: Yeah.
AG: Exactly. Sunday.
Student: How old was he when he wrote that?
AG: It’s probably 1925, so he’s probably about thirty-seven
Student: He’s thirty-seven now?
AG: He?
Student: How old is he now?
AG:No, when he wrote that.
Student: He was about thirty-seven?
AG: He’s dead now
Student: Oh, he’s dead Okay.
AG: Yeah
Student: I’m not familiar
AG: Yeah
Student: I’m just not that familiar with him
AG: Okay

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately  twenty-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-six minutes in]    

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