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On "The Widow's Lament in Springtime"


Peter Halter

In another spring poem, "The Widow's Lament in Springtime," in which the confrontation with the awakening life is extremely painful because it throws the woman back on her own deprivation, this confrontation culminates in the experience of the overwhelming whiteness of the blossoming trees. . .

A white that rouses the desire to merge with it and get lost in it is experienced as an extreme: Oppositions fuse, ecstasy leads to oblivion and annihilation, the color of joy turns - as in China - into the color of mourning. In Williams's poems, writes James E. Breslin, "'[c]rowds are white,' the sea is dark: immersion in either gives relief, a union with One, but halts the cyclic process of renewal." Kandinsky in turn writes: "White is a symbol of a world from which all colors as material attributes have disappeared. The world is too far above us for its structure to touch our souls. There comes a great silence which materially represented is like a cold, indestructible wall going on into the infinite. White, therefore, acts upon our psyche as a great, absolute silence, like the pauses in music that temporarily break the melody.... White has the appeal of nothingness that is before birth"

Peter Halter. From The Revolution in the Visual Arts and the Poetry of William Carlos Williams. Copyright 1994 by Cambridge University Press


Linda Welshimer Wagner

The persona in this poem is not the poet but the widow whose soliloquy reflects clearly her state of mind through simple vocabulary and somewhat irrational transitions. The paradox of flaming "cold fire" foreshadows the conflict between bright colors and her life's drabness; the enclosure of the same cold fire foreshadows the conclusion, in which she is smothered both physically and emotionally by whiteness. The widow tries to speak in short restrained sentences but her emotion breaks through three times--once in the initial metaphor, then more forcefully midway through the poem, and finally in the last sentence, where the two and's imply another surge of feeling.

The simplicity of the vocabulary also adds poignancy; it reveals the woman as distraught and inarticulate. One does not question the genuineness of the stark "Thirtyfive years/ I lived with my husband." The contrast of "formerly" and "before" with "this year" and "today," the last used three times in the short poem, stresses the immediacy of the widow's loss.

Structurally the poem is much more complex than "Le Medecin." Williams worked here with two kinds of statement--emotional and descriptive--the juxtaposition of the two serving almost as figurative expression. Beyond the first metaphor, personal narrative precedes factual description, the two sections culminating in the flowers-grief figure. Then the pattern is repeated, leading to the climax in which the sacramental white flowers are correlated with the ultimate of sorrow, the death wish. This use of section as a kind of metaphor, which I have termed "transitional metaphor" for ease of reference, occurs often in later poems. The alert reader assumes that the poet has a reason for this positioning, and so relates the two sections.

From The Poems of William Carlos Williams: A Critical Study. Middletown, CN: Wesleyan UP, 1964. Copyright 1964 by Linda Welshimer Wagner.


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