To Elsie

By William Carlos Williams 1883–1963
The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

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

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

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

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

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags—succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—

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

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

that she'll be rescued by an
agent—
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor's family, some Elsie—
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

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

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

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

the stifling heat of September
Somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

William Carlos Williams, “To Elsie” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939, edited by Christopher MacGowan. Copyright 1938, 1944, 1945 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems: Volume I 1909-1939 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1945)

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Poet William Carlos Williams 1883–1963

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Imagist

Subjects Gender & Sexuality, Class, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

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 Gender & Sexuality, Class, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics

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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