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The Great Figure

The Great Figure


by William Carlos Williams

The Great Figure Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Here's how the poem looks when written a single prose sentence: "Among the rain and lights, I saw the figure 5 in gold on a red firetruck moving tense, unheeded to gong clangs, siren howls, and wheels rumbling through the dark city." What turns this sentence into "poetry"? What effect do the line breaks have on the way you read it?
  2. Why is the figure 5 a "great figure"? Is Williams being ironic with this title? Why might he use the word "figure" instead of "number"?
  3. What city do you think the poem might be set in? What other details do you add to the scene in your head when you try to imagine it?
  4. Does the number 5 have a special meaning or significance, or do you think it was just an arbitrary number?

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