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William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

To Elsie


XVIII

              1The pure products of America
              2go crazy --
              3mountain folk from Kentucky

              4or the ribbed north end of
              5Jersey
              6with its isolate lakes and

              7valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
              8old names
              9and promiscuity between

            10devil-may-care men who have taken
            11to railroading
            12out of sheer lust of adventure --

            13and young slatterns, bathed
            14in filth
            15from Monday to Saturday

            16to be tricked out that night
            17with gauds
            18from imaginations which have no

            19peasant traditions to give them
            20character
            21but flutter and flaunt

            22sheer rags -- succumbing without
            23emotion
            24save numbed terror

            25under some hedge of choke-cherry
            26or viburnum --
            27which they cannot express --

            28Unless it be that marriage
            29perhaps
            30with a dash of Indian blood

            31will throw up a girl so desolate
            32so hemmed round
            33with disease or murder

            34that she'll be rescued by an
            35agent --
            36reared by the state and

            37sent out at fifteen to work in
            38some hard pressed
            39house in the suburbs --

            40some doctor's family, some Elsie --
            41voluptuous water
            42expressing with broken

            43brain the truth about us --
            44her great
            45ungainly hips and flopping breasts

            46addressed to cheap
            47jewelry
            48and rich young men with fine eyes

            49as if the earth under our feet
            50were
            51an excrement of some sky

            52and we degraded prisoners
            53destined
            54to hunger until we eat filth

            55while the imagination strains
            56after deer
            57going by fields of goldenrod in

            58the stifling heat of September
            59Somehow
            60it seems to destroy us

            61It is only in isolate flecks that
            62something
            63is given off

            64No one
            65to witness
            66and adjust, no one to drive the car

Notes

1] Elsie was the retarded nanny who came from a state orphanage to work for Williams (Litz and MacGowan, 504).

13] slatterns: slovenly women.

25] choke-cherry: wild cherry shrub.

26] viburnum: honeysuckle shrub.

57] goldenrod: plant with long stems topped by small yellow flowers.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Carlos Williams, Spring and All ([Paris]: Contact, 1923): 67-70. PS 3545 .I544S7 1970 Victoria College Library
First publication date: 1923
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Form: tercets
Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by William Carlos Williams