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The Widow's Lament in Springtime

The Widow's Lament in Springtime


by William Carlos Williams

Lines 1-6 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 1

Sorrow is my own yard

  • Our speaker drops a metaphor bomb on us poor readers. To her, sorrow is her yard. Her yard is sorrow. The two things are one and the same.
  • A yard is generally something that we cultivate and take care of; we mow it, we rake the leaves, we probably water it, and try to protect it from harm. It also surrounds us (at least when we're home).
  • All of which makes it a strange, and very sad, image to connect with sorrow, of all things. Who wants to be surrounded by sorrow? Who wants to step out the backdoor and into sorrow?
  • Of course the title warns us we won't be dealing with the most uplifting of poems, but the opening line is blunt nonetheless.
  • Notice how possessive she is of the sorrow. Not just "my," but "my own."
  • Given that we know this is a "Widow's Lament," we can guess that this is going to be a persona poem. This means that though the poem is written by William Carlos Williams, it is not written in his voice. Nope, he has taken on the voice of a woman – a widow – and the poem will contain her words.

Lines 2-4

where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not

  • In these lines, the widow gives us some imagery to describe her yard. She imagines the new grass as flames.
  • This could just be a fancy, poetic way of describing sprouting grass. After all, when new grass sprouts up, it does kind of look like a green flame has spread across the yard, like wildfire.
  • But the image also gives an ominous feel, as if her yard is on the attack.
  • "New grass" calls our attention back to the word "Springtime" in the title. Spring and new growth bring with them ideas of renewal, rebirth, and so on. We're still waiting to see how those ideas will fit in with the sadness in the title and in these opening lines. But we can say that her spring doesn't exactly seem full of joy and rebirth.
  • The seasonal nature of the grass is also emphasized by "as it has flamed / often before." It's a cycle, something that repeats every time the snow melts and the sun comes out.
  • Flames and fire are also pretty widely used as symbols for desire, particularly romantic desire, so we'll keep that info in our back pockets in case it comes in handy.

Lines 5-6

with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.

  • This year, the growth of the grass doesn't hold any warmth or pleasure for our speaker. Some spring.
  • The coldness of the fire seems to tell us that something is definitely not right here. Fire should be hot, right?
  • So even though the grass is growing, just like every other spring, something has changed. Remember, she has lost her husband, so maybe the fact that he's not around to share this spring with her has changed the way she sees it. Even fire doesn't seem warm with him gone.
  • Our speaker seems to feel distant from the new growth, the renewal in the natural world, and yet she feels oppressed by this distance and coldness – it "closes round" her.

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