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The Great Figure

The Great Figure


by William Carlos Williams

The Great Figure Theme of Versions of Reality

"The Great Figure" immediately plunges us into a chaotic and disoriented scene of lights shining through the rain. The title suggests a religious or spiritual significance, and the poem seems to expose the spiritual side of modern, everyday life. As the poem moves forward, Williams transitions from images of light and color to images of sound, and the development of these images suggests slow motion. In all, the passage of the fire truck probably only took a few seconds, but Williams gives us time to reflect on every detail. In real life, most people have few opportunities to pay such close attention to such a seemingly mundane event.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. Why is the figure described as "great"?
  2. In what ways does the form of the poem alter or distort reality?
  3. How does the form of the poem reflect the speaker's experience?
  4. What is the relationship between sound and vision in the poem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poem expresses a Zen-like consciousness in which time slows down and the figure 5 becomes a meditative object.

The form of the poem expresses the motion of the fire truck, which approaches the speaker, then passes him by.

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