Tract

By William Carlos Williams 1883–1963
I will teach you          my townspeople
how to perform          a funeral —
for you have it          over a troop
of artists—
unless one should          scour the world —
you have the ground sense          necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

Then briefly          as to yourselves:
Walk behind —          as they do in France,
seventh class, or          if you ride
Hell take curtains!          Go with some show
of inconvenience;          sit openly —
to the weather          as to grief.
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.

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Poet William Carlos Williams 1883–1963

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Imagist

Subjects Living, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 William Carlos Williams

Biography

William Carlos Williams has always been known as an experimenter, an innovator, a revolutionary figure in American poetry. Yet in comparison to artists of his own time who sought a new environment for creativity as expatriates in Europe, Williams lived a remarkably conventional life. A doctor for more than forty years serving the New Jersey town of Rutherford, he relied on his patients, the America around him, and his own . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Imagist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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