Spring and All
by William Carlos Williams
Our speaker is someone who stops by the side of a road, looking at the landscape in late winter and telling us about it.
That’s about all the information we get about the speaker of this poem. We know where he or she is, and what he/she is looking at, but we don’t know much else. Now, we always make a point of saying that the speaker is a fictional character, a creation of the author, rather than the author himself. Even if the poem is autobiographical, the speaker is still a made-up version of the author.
In this case though, we know that Williams was a doctor, and so it seems convenient that this character would be headed to a hospital. So, if it helps, imagine the dashing Dr. Williams getting out of his car, and looking at the field. You might even wonder if, as he stood there, he was annoyed that his name was William Williams. Did the kids at school used to tease him? Were his parents just not very creative? OK, maybe that’s not what interests you. Maybe this is just a guy by the road. Hard to say, but fun to try to guess.
So, basically, we don’t know much about the way this person looks, or even if they are a man or a woman. To make up for that though, we do get a lot of information about how this person sounds. Say this was an email you got from a person you had never met. What guesses would you make about his or her personality, based on the way he/she writes?
You might decide that the speaker of this poem writes a bit like a scientist. Personal emotion is held back. Even as things speed up or slow down, we don’t get a sense that the speaker lets him or herself get carried away. The words are precise and short, without any extra flourishes. They all serve a purpose. In a sense these words are like tiny scalpels, dissecting this landscape, looking for its secrets. Objects in the poem are described as "cold," "stiff," and "stark." It’s almost like we’re watching someone perform an operation. It’s not that it isn’t exciting or important, but there’s no room for error. Words and images can’t wander, or take their time. Above all, this speaker is in control of the situation, and wants us to know it.