In a lot of ways, "Spring and All" is a classic William Carlos Williams poem: short, beautiful, and filled with simple images. It focuses on making each moment as clear and sharp as possible. You might have heard of a couple other Williams poems (maybe the one about the wheelbarrow, or the plums?) – same idea here. He’s discovering poetry in the world around him, in daily experience. He’s inventing a style that doesn’t need fancy words or references to history in order to make its point or to amaze you with its beauty.
But, before you start thinking that he’s all about plants and fruit and simple pretty words, we should tell you where this poem comes from. It’s part of a much longer book called Spring and All, which is CRAZY. It’s a mix of poems, prose, and all kinds of ideas about the imagination, writing, history, and so on. The chapters are out of order, and the sentences stop midway. In a lot of ways, it sounds like a rant.
Eventually, the book makes a kind of weird sense (and you should check it out if you like Williams), but it takes a lot of work to get there. Luckily, Williams’s genius also comes in bite-sized pieces, like this poem. The bottom line? Don’t let this poem fool you. It’s easy to read – and that’s how it’s supposed to be – but there’s a lot behind it, and a lot going on under the surface.
Like we promised, big things are happening in this poem. Well, all right, that’s kind of a stretch. As you probably noticed, nothing much actually happens in this poem. But, things are about to happen. Yes, we’re working up to a big cheesy symbol here, but it’s hard to avoid, and it gives us a real reason to care. Basically, the "spring" that Williams talks about isn’t just happening in the poem. "By the road to the contagious hospital" was written at a big moment in history, a turning point for art, poetry, etc. WWI was just over, the world had changed, and people were looking for a way to talk, think, and write about the modern world.
Williams knew a lot about this – he was friends with tons of these "Modernist" artists, and he was finding his own way to deal with these questions. Lucky for us, he wrote simple, beautiful poems that are actually fun to read. Take our word for it, some of his friends (ahem... Ezra Pound) made it a lot harder on themselves and on their readers.
So, here’s the deal: If you’re looking for a poet who lived and wrote at an amazing time, and who developed a unique, straightforward style, Williams is your guy. As for this particular poem, it’s good enough to be fun, deep enough to impress your friends, and – unlike some of his really short poems – no one will think you got it off a Hallmark card.