Kora in Hell: Improvisations XIV

By William Carlos Williams 1883–1963

     The brutal Lord of All will rip us from each other—leave the one to suffer here alone. No need belief in god or hell to postulate that much. The dance: hands touching, leaves touching—eyes looking, clouds rising—lips touching, cheeks touching, arm about . . . Sleep. Heavy head, heavy arm, heavy dream—: Of Ymir’s flesh the earth was made and of his thoughts were all the gloomy clouds created. Oya!
     Out of bitterness itself the clear wine of the imagination will be pressed and the dance prosper thereby.
     To you! whoever you are, wherever you are! (But I know where you are!) There’s Dürer’s “Nemesis” naked on her sphere over the little town by the river—except she’s too old. There’s a dancing burgess by Tenier and Villon’s maitresse—after he’d gone bald and was skin pocked and toothless: she that had him ducked in the sewage drain. Then there’s that miller’s daughter of “buttocks broad and breastes high.” Something of Nietzsche, something of the good Samaritan, something of the devil himself,—can cut a caper of a fashion, my fashion! Hey you, the dance! Squat. leap. Hips to the left. Chin—ha!—sideways! Stand up, stand up ma bonne! you’ll break my backbone. So again!—and so forth till we’re sweat soaked.
     Some fools once were listening to a poet reading his poem. It so happened that the words of the thing spoke of gross matters of the everyday world such as are never much hidden from a quick eye. Out of these semblances, and borrowing certain members from fitting masterpieces of antiquity, the poet began piping up his music, simple fellow, thinking to please his listeners. But they getting the whole matter sadly muddled in their minds made such a confused business of listening that not only were they not pleased at the poet’s exertions but no sooner had he done than they burst out against him with violent imprecations.
     It’s all one. Richard worked years to conquer the descending cadence, idiotic sentimentalist. Ha, for happiness! This tore the dress in ribbons from her maid’s back and not spared the nails either; wild anger spit from her pinched eyes! This is the better part. Or a child under a table to be dragged out coughing and biting, eyes glittering evilly. I’ll have it my way! Nothing is any pleasure but misery and brokenness. THIS is the only up-cadence. This is where the secret rolls over and opens its eyes. Bitter words spoken to a child ripple in morning light! Boredom from a bedroom doorway thrills with anticipation! The complaints of an old man dying piecemeal are starling chirrups. Coughs go singing on springtime paths across a field; corruption picks strawberries and slow warping of the mind, blacking the deadly walls—counted and recounted—rolls in the grass and shouts ecstatically. All is solved! The moaning and dull sobbing of infants sets blood tingling and eyes ablaze to listen. Speed sings in the heels at long nights tossing on coarse sheets with bruning sockets staring into the black. Dance! Sing! Coil and uncoil! Whip yourselves about! Shout the deliverance! An old woman has infected her blossomy grand-daughter with a blood illness that every two weeks drives the mother into hidden songs of agony, the pad-footed mirage of creeping death for music. The face muscles keep pace. Then a darting about the compass in a tarantelle that wears flesh from bones. Here is dancing! The mind in tatters. And so the music wistfully takes the lead. Ay de mí, Juana la Loca, reina de España, esa está tu canta, reina mía!

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 Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture, Philosophy, Poetry & Poets, Theater & Dance, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

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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 Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture, Philosophy, Poetry & Poets, Theater & Dance, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic


Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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