The Eight Day of Creation: William Carlos Williams' Late Poems

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Author: Paul Mariani
Editor: Dedria Bryfonski
Date: 1978
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,036 words

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Even before he finished the last part of Paterson as he had originally conceived it—with its four-part structure— Williams was already thinking of moving his poem into a fifth book. The evidence for such a rethinking of the quadernity of Paterson exists in the manuscripts for Book IV, for there Williams, writing for himself, considered extending the field of the poem to write about the river in a new dimension: the Passaic as archetype, as the River of Heaven. That view of his river, however, was in 1950 premature, for Williams still had to follow the Passaic out into the North Atlantic, where, dying, it would lose its linear identity in the sea of eternity, what Williams called the sea of blood. The processive mode of Paterson I–IV achieved, however, Williams returned to the untouched key: the dimension of timelessness, the world of the imagination, the apocalyptic moment, what he referred to as the eighth day of creation. (p. 305)

[The] apocalyptic mode is not really new for Williams in the sense that basically new strategies were developed for the late poems. Williams had tried on the approach to the apocalyptic moment any number of times; so, for example, he destroyed the entire world, imaginatively, at the beginning of Spring and All to begin all over again, in order that his few readers might see the world as new. And in Paterson III, the city is once again destroyed in the imagination by the successive inroads of wind, fire, and flood, necessary purgings before Dr. Paterson can discover the scarred beauty, the beautiful black Kora, in the living hell of the modern city. These repeated decreations are necessary, in terms of Williams' psychopoetics, in order to come at that beauty locked in the imagination. “To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live there is but a single force.” Williams had insisted in Spring and All. That single force was the imagination and this was its book. But Spring and All was only one of its books or, better, perhaps, all of Williams' books are one book, and all are celebrations of the erotic/creative power of the imagination.

What is new about the late poems is Williams' more relaxed way of saying and with it a more explicit way of seeing the all-pervasive radiating pattern at the core of so much that Williams wrote. In fact, all of Paterson and Asphodel and much else that Williams wrote, from The Great American Novel (which finds its organizing principle in the final image of the machine manufacturing shoddy products from cast-off materials, the whole crazy-quilt held together with a stitched-in design) to Old Doc Rivers (which constructs a cubist portrait of an old-time doctor from Paterson by juggling patches of secondhand conversations, often unreliable, with old hospital records), to The Clouds (which tries to come at Williams' sense of loss for his father by juxtaposing images of clouds with fragmentary scenes culled from his memory), in all...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100000860