Poetry Review: “Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams

WCW_PoemsWilliam Carlos Williams said he modeled his original form and style of poetry on the language that he heard ordinary people using in his day to day life as a doctor. One of the things that fascinated him was the effect that radio and newspapers, the mass communication of his time, was having on ordinary language. In the second decade of the 21st century, we know that the effect on language by mass communication has only increased exponentially.

Mass communication levels language, simplifies it. Whether this is for the better or worse, I cannot say. How can increasing communication ever be a harmful thing? But than again, how can “genericizing” anything ever be good?

Language evolves. The English of Shakespeare is different from that of Shelley. The English of Shelley bears little in common with that of William Carlos Williams. Distance, time, oceans all change that fragile thing, our common tongue, that holds so many of us together even across the centuries.

Poetry is the most peculiar of arts because it uses as its “tools” the most ordinary of elements, words. The same words that are the “spit and sport of the mundane” are called upon to become transcendent.

A music composer has for his or her tools kinds of sounds that are made on instruments specifically created for his or her art. A painter has a palette of colors that rightfully belongs only to God and to artists. But the poor poet must take the same tools that are daily used to sell underwear and information and make them something else all together.

On a winter morning, a poem by Williams on trees seems like just the thing. Notice how Williams uses ordinary language about ordinary things, in this case trees, to make something extraordinary.


Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

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