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For all the sorrow it contains, "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" is no weepy plea for pity. Not even close. Our speaker, who is by all means grief stricken from the loss of her husband, is composed, even distant. The poem may cover a wide gulf of complicated emotion, but it does so plainly, with a no-nonsense attitude. It sounds just like we might imagine a friend or a neighbor would sound, trying to communicate his or her emotions after a great loss.
William Carlos Williams was a big fan of making poems local and contemporary. He wanted his pieces to sound like they were written in the very time and place they were describing. Williams believed the essence of poetry was change; it must constantly be reinvented. Williams wanted to strip away what he saw as ornamental (check out his early poem "Tract" for more on that) and to make a poetry that is immediate, local, and vital.
To be sure, "The Widow's Lament in Springtime," published in 1921, deals with some very traditional, even stodgy poetic themes: loss and death, the seasons, and man's relation to the natural world. Yet, despite this, and even though we know it's a poem, this piece is so beautifully condensed, and so honest, that it somehow doesn't really feel that much like a poem, does it?
The chatty tone, the plainness of speech, the absence of rhyme and meter, all these help lend the widow a realness. To put it simply, the artsy-fartsy poetry parts don't get in the way. Williams lets the emotions speak for themselves. In fact, he lets the widow speak for herself, so let's give her a listen, shall we?
Granted, most of you reading this are probably not elderly widows. You probably haven't even been married, much less lost a spouse of thirty-five years. Thirty-five years! For those of us who haven't even been alive that long, how can we possibly relate? We should probably pack up our bags and move on to the next poem, right?
Unless, of course, you think experiences of grief and loss might be a part of every person's life, no matter your age. You know, the more we think about it, we feel that what this William Carlos Williams poem deals with – the way a huge change or loss can transform our life experience – is actually incredibly relevant and engaging. Think of the difficulty of waking up in the same bed, gazing out at the same spring flowers you've looked at all your life, but with your family (or a significant part of it) suddenly gone. Think of how you might now see those things that used to give you joy.
Plus, if a man in his late thirties can manage to write a poem from the perspective of a widow, we figure we can muster the imagination to relate. Not that it takes much work to be moved by this poem. It breaks our hearts, but in the best way possible. The way that art often does.
WCW at the Poetry Foundation
Everything you ever wanted to know about William Carlos Williams and then some.
The Poet at Poets.org
And then some more.
Williams and Pound
Check out this shot of Williams and his fellow poet Ezra Pound. What buddies.
White flowers, just like in the poem.
The Widow's Opera in Springtime
Apparently, American composer Milton Babbitt set this poem to music. Who knew? You can listen to the song on YouTube. Just make sure you click to 6:40 on the time signature, so you can skip the Brahms.
Audio recordings of Williams's works, including "The Widow's Lament," brought to you by the awesome folks at the Poetry Foundation.
PBS Always Comes Through
Some audio from good ol' PBS, courtesy of Garrison Keillor.
See the poem as it was originally published. You won't even need a time machine to travel back to 1922.
Here it is, awesome readers, the 1921 book in which "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" first appeared.