Brian A. Bremen: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace"

Originally entitled "Queenannslace" when it was first published in Others for 1919, Williams's poem begins by distancing itself historically from an earthy, anti-extravagant love song like "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"--" Her body is not so white as / anemone petals nor so smooth--nor / so remote a thing"--only to turn away from simile altogether. Instead, Williams's "post-Darwinian botanist's language of flowers" avoids becoming a simple "grammar of signs" for his wife Flossie by obscuring distinctions between tenor and vehicle. More than simple analogies of each other, flower and wife occupy that "field" both simultaneously and separately--"until the whole field" is a projection of "white desire." The "Queen-Anne's-Lace" is neither simple conceit nor Darwinian allegory. "It is a field / of the wild carrot taking / the field by force"; the pedestrian "grass / does not raise above it." "It" is an epistemological field that generates analogous situations without reducing one--flower or wife--to the terms of the other. Williams's "diagnostic treatment" here acts within a "grammar of translations that maintains the particulars of both woman and flower in their analogous relationship to the poet.

Both flower and wife become "representative anecdotes" for each other in the "development" of their relationship to the poet's "hand" that measures and caresses the particulars of each as it re-presents the other. Additionally, in the same way that empathy can only be generated by an appeal to previous experience, neither "development" can be understood alone. Both are a part of that "space of projection with depth, of coincidence with development" that is the space of Williams's diagnostics. The particular signs of the flower are read analogously with the particulars of the woman, and in doing so Williams avoids the spatial reduction of one in terms of the other. Instead, Williams creates that "intersubjective space" that we explained in Chapter 2. And, in the unfolding of the development of this analogical relationship, Williams gives the coincidence of his particulars a temporality that rescues them from the detached condition of "schizophrenia" that we also saw in the previous chapter. As a projection of desire, however, Williams's poem shows the danger of having its "grammar of translation" become a "grammar of transference" in its recognition that "Wherever / his hand has lain there is / a tiny purple blemish." This kind of poem is what Thom Gunn, in his reading of "The Term," called "a completely new poem." Neither allegory, nor conceit, image or object, Williams's creates a "field" that is, in part, all of these things, as well as "a pious wish to whiteness gone over--/ or nothing." In Chapter 5, we will see how Williams uses this "diagnostic field" as a part of his "modern medicine," but first we need to understand Williams's method of "cure."

From William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture. Copyright © 1993 by Oxford UP.

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Criticism Overview
Title Brian A. Bremen: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Brian A. Bremen Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture
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