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Sour Grapes (1921)
William Carlos Williams


    In this world of
    as fine a pair of breasts
    as ever I saw
    the fountain in
    Madison Square
    spouts up of water
    a white tree
    that dies and lives
    as the rocking water
    in the basin
    turns from the stonerim
    back upon the jet
    and rising there
    reflectively drops down again.

William Carlos Williams was an original and truly American voice and he was familiar with the works of Picasso, Gris, Picabia, Braque, and Cezanne. He strived to do in his poems what these artists were doing with their paintings and sculpture, to lift "to the imagination those things that lie under the direct scrutiny of the senses, close to the nose."

By using theories that originated from painting he isolated words to transform them into art objects. Marjorie Perloff a foremost critic of twentieth-century poetry relates:

    "Here was a man who had a kind of energy, sexual energy, that he didn't know quite how to channel. One of the main tensions that I see in Williams’ work is between that sexual energy and desire and fear and safety......Williams’ great taste for the new, almost the cult of the new some would say, is intimately bound up with his feeling about America as the New World and with his feeling that the poet’s mission is to celebrate the New World and with his feeling about birth and with his being a pediatrician and bringing babies into the world so that he’s always dealing with the new. When you are a pediatrician and you're constantly dealing with birth, it cannot be a coincidence that that’s what Williams did professionally and that is what is so much the subject of his poetry."
The beauty of ordinary things is what William Carlos Williams made every effort to convey with his images of words. Spouts is from his collection Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems (1921). At 24 years old Williams was an intern at the Nursery and Children’s Hospital in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood best known for its dangerous criminals and drug addicts. Perhaps an artistically sculptured water fountain of Madison Square was a refreshing and embracing sight at the end of a long day of delivering babies. No doubt he had observed time and again the earthly and sensual nurturing of a mother suckling her child; here Williams has likened a water fountain perched upon the comforting bosom of a thriving city known as New york as he explores the sensual experience of the female body with a deep desire for maternal sanctuary and nourishment.


Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

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