Kora in Hell: Improvisations XXII

By William Carlos Williams 1883–1963
     This is a slight stiff dance to a waking baby whose arms have been lying curled back above his head upon the pillow, making a flower—the eyes closed. Dead to the world! Waking is a little hand brushing away dreams. Eyes open. Here’s a new world.
     There is nothing the sky-serpent will not eat. Sometimes it stops to gnaw Fujiyama, sometimes to slip its long and softly clasping tongue about the body of a sleeping child who smiles thinking its mother is lifting it.
     Security, solidity—we laugh at them in our clique. It is tobacco to us, this side of her leg. We put it in our samovar and make tea of it. You see the stuff has possibilities. You think you are opposing the rich but the truth is you’re turning toward authority yourself, to say nothing of religion. No, I do not say it means nothing. Why everything is nicely adjusted to our moods. But I would rather describe to you what I saw in the kitchen last night—overlook the girl a moment: there over the sink (1) this saucepan holds all, (2) this colander holds most, (3) this wire sieve lets most go and (4) this funnel holds nothing. You appreciate the progression. What need then to be always laughing? Quit phrase making—that is, not of course—but you will understand me or if not—why—come to breakfast sometime around evening on the fourth of January any year you please; always be punctual where eating is concerned.

     My little son’s improvisations exceed min: a round stone to him’s a loaf of bread or “this hen could lay a dozen golden eggs.” Birds fly about his bedstead; giants lean over him with hungry jaws; bears roam the farm by summer and are killed and quartered at a thought. There are interminable stories at eating time full of bizarre imagery, true grotesques, pigs that change to dogs in the telling, cows that sing, roosters that become mountains and oceans that fill a soup plate. There are groans and growls, dun clouds and sunshine mixed in a huge phantasmagoria that never rests, never ceased to unfold into—the day’s poor little happenings. Not that alone. He has music which I have not. His tunes follow no scale, no rhythm—alone the mood in odd ramblings up and down, over and over with a rigor of invention that rises beyond the power to follow except in some more obvious flight. Never have I heard so crushing a critique as those desolate inventions, involved half-hymns, after his first visit to a Christian Sunday school.
     This song is to Phyllis! By this deep snow I know it’s springtime, not ring time! Good God no! The screaming brat’s a sheep bleating, the rattling crib-side sheep shaking a bush. We are young! We are happy! says Colin. What’s an icy room and the sun not up? This song is to Phyllis. Reproduction lets death in, says Joyce. Rot, say I. to Phyllis this song is!
     That which is known has value only by virtue of the dark. This cannot be otherwise. A thing known passes out of the mind into the muscles, the will is quit of it, save only when set into vibration by the forces of darkness opposed to it. 

Source: Imaginations (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1970)

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Poet William Carlos Williams 1883–1963

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic


Subjects Living, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Youth, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Poetry & Poets, Reading & Books

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 William Carlos Williams


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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SUBJECT Living, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Youth, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Poetry & Poets, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic


Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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