On William Carlos Williams’ Birthday

William Carlos Williams. c.1951 – Photograph courtesy the William Carlos Williams collection at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale, Connecticut

Celebrating today the birthday of the great William Carlos Williams. We’ll direct you to the extraordinary resource of PennSound and their Williams page (featuring Richard Swigg’s remarkable collection of Williams audio-recordings).

We’d like to make as our feature this year, the June 21, 1951, home-recording  that was made at the home in Andover, New Jersey, of his friend and colleague, Kenneth Burke,  (which includes (indeed, begins with) Williams reading (in its entirety) his late great poem, “The Desert Music”)

This is followed, please note, by a little recording malfunction (which can hastily be skipped over) on the recording of Williams reading the second poem, “The Cod Head”. (For the third poem. Burning the Christmas Greens“, and for the rest of the approximately thirty-minute tape, there are no further distractions.)

The complete recording may be listened to – here

“The Desert Music”. was first delivered as the Phi Beta Kappa poem at the Commencement ceremony at Harvard, that had taken place a few days previously. A subsequent reading of the poem  (in Princeton, the following year), may be listened to – here)

“The Desert Music” –  (“the dance begins: to end about a form/propped motionless – on the bridge…”….”And  I could not help thinking/of the wonders of the brain that/hears that music and of our/skill sometimes to record it)

The Cod Head” – (see above)

“Burning the Christma Greens” –   (“Their time past, pulled down/cracked and flung to the fire..” …”as if we stood/ourselves refreshed among/the shining fauna of the fire”

“A Sort of A Song” – (“Let the snake wait under/his weed/and the writing be of words, slow and quick, sharp/to strike…”…” Compose. (No ideas/but in things) Invent!/ Saxifrage is my flower that splits/the rocks.”)

Williams comments, as follows

“I can’t reconstruct the situation but saxifrage is my flower, Saxifrage is  a very inconspicuous little flower and it grows.. Saxifrage means.. Saxi.. it breaks the rocks. yes that’s it exactly.
And it’s the idea that the poet and all that he stands for is absolutely insistent and will prevail in the end, although it’ll be a long time. And it’s a very inconspicuous little flower, that, by its roots, does finally end by splitting the rocks. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes, and it isn’t by anyone’s concern, any poet’s concern, but it is his intention to be completely revolutionary and to knock down all opposition, in the end if it takes him forever, he’s gonna win in the end, and it’s a celebration of that, and it’s to say that.
He’s going to wait, he’s a  snake. he’s saxifrage, he’s determined, and you must do it and the the invention – that is the metaphor is juxtaposition of those two things – the people and the stone there they are people stone, people, stone   stones are actually a metaphor, they are and they won’t be beaten down, and they won’t be wiped out (although saxifrage will certainly go in there and open them up!)

This (next) is from Paterson 1 or II . I don’t know which one it is! I think it’s from Paterson. 1, first book – ( “How strange you are.. “  How strange you are, you idiot …”…”his mind drinks of desire”)

“Tract” (“I will teach you my townspeople how to perform a funeral….”… “Or do you think  you can shut grief in/  What – from us?  We who have perhaps/ nothing  to lose? Share with us.share with us – it will be money/ in your pockets/ Go now/ I think you are/  ready

Audience: Wonderful.  You meant that one
WCW: Well there’s another nice one that I can tell you..
Audience: (Pick, pick whatever you want.)
WCW: Well, if you like. This will be in…
Audience: As many as you want to.

[Williams reads three more]

Apres le bain”‘  –  (“I gotta/buy me a new/girdle./(I’ll buy/you one) O.K./(I wish… “..I GOTTA/ wig-/gle for this./ (You pig)”)

”Spring is here again, sir”  (“Gofffle brook of a May day…”…”(we)..dipped our
hands in the running water – /cold, too cold; but found/ it, to our satisfaction,
as in the past, still wet.”)

“May 1st tomorrow” – ( “The mind’s a queer sponge/  squeeze it  and out come bird songs”….”Chee woo! etcetera”)

Further William Carlos Williams Birthday postings may be found herehere, here,  and here

In fact, check out our archives to access a considerable number of Ginsberg-Williams posts. We’re a big fan of Bill’s over here.

Happy 136th, Bill!

Saxifrage – photo – Jerzy Opiola

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