William Williams' "Spring and All"
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 concept in Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is that “you can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology (Ramazani 942). The Waste Land is a poem that calls upon literary history by utilizing texts through allusions, direct quotes, and non-English languages as if another voice is standing forward to reassure a particular point. The average reader would need footnotes to make sense of many of the key concepts particularly when it comes to this transcription of languages, such as the closing line, a repetition of the Sanskrit word “shantih”, a summation for the entire piece (Ramazani 487). Williams, a poet that remained in America, promoted his beliefs through his poetry; he embraced American culture and especially the voice of America. Since Eliot is drawing inspiration from the collective unconscious, the mind of Europe, the overarching views of what is considered to be good literature, he maintains an unwavering devotion to classic literature in composing The Waste Land. Meanwhile, Williams was a strong advocate of implementing the American Idiom into his work, using American speech the way it is spoken every day. The...