It was Ezra Pound , that indefatigable discoverer of talent, who first seized on the essential elements in Williams's poetry. Introducing Williams's second, still tentative, volume, The Tempers, in 1913, Pound quoted one of Williams's similes where he speaks of a thousand freshets: ... crowded Like peasants to a fair Clear skinned, wild from seclusion.
Pound has instinctively isolated here elements thoroughly characteristic of this poet's entire venture—poetic energy imagined as the rush of water; not so much Wordsworth's “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” but feelings “crowded,” forcing and yet constrained by their own earth-bound track; a certain rustic uncouthness whose end is a celebration and which wears the stamp of locality. “The only universal,” as Williams was to say later, “is the local as savages, artists and—to a lesser extent—peasants know.”
The most interesting of Williams's early volumes, Al Que Quiere!, appeared in 1917, the same year as T. S. Eliot 's Prufrock and Other Observations. Pound was there to salute the arrival of both volumes and to differentiate them: Distinct and as different as possible from the orderly statements of an Eliot ... are the poems of Carlos Williams. If the sinuosities of Misses Moore and Loy are difficult to follow I do not know what is to be said for Mr Williams's ramifications and abruptnesses. I do not pretend to follow all of his volts, jerks, sulks, balks, outblurts and jump-overs; but for all this roughness there remains with me the conviction that there is nothing meaningless in his book, Al Que Quiere, not a line ...
Perhaps Pound overstates the “roughness” of Williams, but, in pointing out the “jerks, balks, outblurts and jump-overs,” he has arrived at one of the earliest and most accurate formulations of what Williams's verse was about. Not only is “locality” (a sticking to New Jersey when Pound and Eliot had chosen European exile) the geographic source of Williams's poetry, but “locality,” seen as the jerks and outblurts of speech rendered on to the here and now of the page, is the source of his lineation. In the imaginative play of Williams's poems, where the attention is frequently turned upon outward things, the sound structure of the poems which embody that attention is an expression of strains, breath pauses, bodily constrictions and releases. Thus Williams's “locality” begins with a somatic awareness, a physiological presence in time and space, and this in quite early poems. (pp. vii–viii)
The relation between subject and object appears in Williams in a series of images of physical strain—a poem from Al Que Quiere!, “Spring Strains ,” ... feels out its own balks and resistances against those of the scene outside where the swift flight of two birds is challenged, as:
the blinding and red-edged sun-blur— creeping energy, concentrated counterforce—welds sky, buds, trees, rivets them in one puckering hold!
At the close, the birds exert their own counterforce of speed and lightness, breaking out of the riveted landscape
flung outward and up—disappearing suddenly!
—the poem imparting a verb-like force...