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Short poem

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)


              1I will teach you       my townspeople
              2how to perform       a funeral --
              3for you have it       over a troop
              4of artists--
              5unless one should       scour the world --
              6you have the ground sense       necessary.

              7See! the hearse leads.
              8I begin with       a design for a hearse.
              9For Christ's sake       not black --
            10nor white either --       and not polished!
            11Let it be weathered --       like a farm wagon --
            12with gilt wheels       (this could be
            13applied fresh       at small expense)
            14or no wheels at all:
            15a rough dray to       drag over the ground.

            16Knock the glass out!
            17My God-glass,       my townspeople!
            18For what purpose?       Is it for the dead
            19to look out or       for us to see
            20how well he is housed       or to see
            21the flowers or       the lack of them --
            22or what?
            23To keep the rain       and snow from him?
            24He will have a       heavier rain soon:
            25pebbles and dirt       and what not.
            26Let there be no glass --
            27and no upholstery       phew!
            28and no little       brass rollers
            29and small easy wheels       on the bottom --
            30my townspeople       what are you thinking of?

            31A rough       plain hearse then
            32with gilt wheels       and no top at all.
            33On this       the coffin lies
            34by its own weight.

            35            No wreathes please --
            36especially no       hot house flowers.
            37Some common memento       is better,
            38something he prized       and is known by:
            39his old clothes --       a few books perhaps --
            40God knows what!       You realize
            41how we are       about these things
            42my townspeople --
            43something will be found --       anything
            44even flowers       if he had come to that.
            45So much for       the hearse.

            46For heaven's sake though       see to the driver!
            47Take off       the silk hat! In fact
            48that's no place       at all for him --
            49up there       unceremoniously
            50dragging our friend out       to his own dignity!
            51Bring him down --       bring him down!
            52Low and inconspicuous!       I'd not have him ride
            53on the wagon at all --       damn him --
            54the undertaker's       understrapper!
            55Let him hold       the reins
            56and walk       at the side
            57and inconspicuously       too!

            58Then briefly       as to yourselves:
            59Walk behind --       as they do in France,
            60seventh class, or       if you ride
            61Hell take curtains!       Go with some show
            62of inconvenience;       sit openly --
            63to the weather       as to grief.
            64Or do you think       you can shut grief in?
            65What -- from us?       We who have perhaps
            66nothing to lose?       Share with us
            67share with us --       it will be money
            68in your pockets.
            69                    Go now
            70I think you are       ready.


1] The spaces dividing lines mark line-breaks in the 1916 edition.

15] dray: low cart lacking sides.

54] understrapper: underling, someone who harnesses the horses.

60] seventh class: the cheapest kind of fare for public transportation (exaggerated).

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, A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere! (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1917): 26-28. York University Library Special Collections 5773.
First publication date: February 1916
Publication date note: Others 2.2 (Feb. 1916)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Form note: unrhyming lines usually spaced at mid-point

Other poems by William Carlos Williams