The Modernist era of poetry, like all reactionary movements, was directed, influenced, and determined by the events preceding it. The gradual shift away from the romanticized writing of the Victorian Era served as a litmus test for the values, and the shape of poetry to come. Adopting this same idea, William Carlos Williams concentrated his poetry in redirecting the course of Modernist writing, continuing a break from the past in more ways than he saw being done, particularly by T.S. Eliot, an American born poet living abroad. Eliot’s monumental poem, The Waste Land, was a historically rooted, worldly conscious work that was brought on by the effects of World War One. The implementation of literary allusions versus imagination was one point that Williams attacked Eliot over, but was Williams completely in stride with his own guidelines? Looking closely at Williams’s reactionary poem to The Waste Land, Spring and All, we can question whether or not he followed the expectations he anticipated of Modernist work; the attempts to construct new art in the midst of a world undergoing sweeping changes.
A version of Spring and All without the sections of prose that were interspersed with the poems was first published in 1923; a year after The Waste Land first appeared. In titles alone, we can see the opposing ideals peeking through, The Waste Land, a poem embedded with imagery of “breeding / … out of the dead land,” a proposal of life moving forward in the wake of immense death that came with World War One, against the direct presentation of the title Spring and All, which seemingly appears as the solution, the key to rebirth (Ramazani 474).
To put The Waste Land in context, a primary c...
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...eme” (Spring and All 179). It is not enough to accept Williams’s words in Spring and All as a sound argument for the direction of poetry or as a proper list of what poetry shouldn’t be. One must examine the work as a reactionary piece to the issues of the time period it was written in while insuring that it carries along the ideals it intends to redefine, without question.
Ramazani, Jahan. Richard Ellmann, Robert O’Clair, ed. The Norton Anthology Of Modern And Contemporary Poetry. Vol 1 Modern Poetry. Third Edition. Norton. 2003.
Williams, William Carlos. Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. New Directions. 1967. 146-150.
Williams, William Carlos. Spring and All. 1923.
Williams, William Carlos. The American Idiom: A Correspondence: William Carlos Williams & Harold Norse 1951-1961. Ed. John J. Wilson. Bright Tyger. San Francisco 1990.
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