Study Guide

The Dance Quotes

  • Art and Culture

    In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess (1,12)

    Well, you know this line must be important. It's both the first and last line of the poem. It's kind of cool that Williams chooses to bookend his poem with such a simple and straightforward line. This poem is a celebration of a great painting, and it makes no bones about it.

    [...] the squeal and the blare and the
    tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles (3-4)

    Though this poem is celebrating the refined work of a professional painter, it's also celebrating the less refined work of average ordinary people. When the lines above tell us that the music is squealing and blaring, we get the sense that it's not exactly Mozart. Instead, it's rough and rowdy folk music, which to the speaker is just as cool as any super refined piece of classical music.

    their hips and their bellies off balance
    to turn them. Kicking and rolling
    about the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts (7-9)

    We're guessing Natalie Portman's character from Black Swan wouldn't be too jealous of these dancers' skills (which is probably a good thing for everyone involved). All this off-balance butt swinging might not be too impressive to a person who only likes ballet. Even though these dancers aren't exactly the most expertly trained, they're totally having a good time. Again, we see this poem celebrating folk art as well as the great painting it's inspired by.

  • Happiness

    the dancers go round, they go round and
    around (2-3)

    Come on, how many times have you seen a bunch of people dance around in a circle who weren't happy? Is it even humanly possible to dance around in a circle without feeling some stirring of joy somewhere inside? These early lines seem to announce proudly that this is a poem that celebrates life, humanity, and happiness.

    [...] Kicking and rolling
    about the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts (8-9)

    These dancers are so happy that they're literally kicking and rolling around. If that isn't enough to convince you of their exceeding joy, they're also doing a little butt-swinging. No doubt about it, these peasants are enjoying their festival like crazy.

    shanks must be sound to bear up under such
    rollicking measures, prance as they dance (10-11)

    These peasants are having such a blast dancing that the speaker marvels at the fact that their legs can even take the strain. Words like "rollicking" and "prance" hit us over the head with just how happy this event is. The language infuses this scene with so much sheer joy that it almost transcends its humble surroundings. It's not just about these particular people at this particular party; it's about the possibility of happiness for all human beings.

  • Society and Class

    In Brueghel's great picture, The Kermess (1,12)

    The fact that this poem is focusing on this particular painting by Brueghel tells us that it's going be focused on people of the lower class. Brueghel was actually well-known for his paintings of peasant life—not a typical subject in his time period in which most paintings were of classical subjects or royalty. The fact that he chose to lend his carefully-honed skills to depicting a country peasant festival was in and of itself a statement. It's like he's saying that the lives of the working class can have just as striking moments of beauty as the lives of the aristocracy. The fact that Williams was inspired to write a poem by this painting in particular highlights his own dedication to representing the lives of everyday folks.

    the squeal and the blare and the
    tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles (3-4)

    We mention this in the "Art and Culture" section as well, but these lines are totally worth noting here again. The fact that this music is squealing and blaring shows that it's the unrefined, raw music of the people, rather than the refined music of the concert halls. The instruments involved also tip us off that this is folk music. There's not a whole lot of bagpipes in Beethoven symphonies, right?

    [...] Kicking and rolling
    about the Fair Grounds (8-9)

    These lines paint a seriously folksy image in our brains. Fair Grounds use to be exclusively associated with farm life, because it's where everybody went to sell livestock and the products of the harvest. It was a place where farmers and their families went to get business done, but also to let their hair down a little bit. So, the fact that this whole event is taking place at a Fair Grounds marks it as a celebration of the rootsy way of life.