James E. Breslin: On "To Elsie"

Williams found himself in a culture devoted to success via purposive action; and it is toward the devastating consequences of that idealization of ascendancy that he turns in the well-known "To Elsie." A pure product of America, one of the famous Jackson Whites of northern New Jersey, Williams's hulking half-mad maid Elsie expresses with her "broken / brain the truth about us." Addressing herself "to cheap / jewelry / and rich young men with fine eyes," she embodies the national desire for quick, easy wealth. The myth of success, with which Williams had been imbued in his youth, has now become part of his mature demonology. For Elsie expresses the truth about a culture in which aspirations are not fed by an organic relation to the physical environment. As Williams argues, most Americans, like the original settlers of the continent, believe that this world is a dunghill.

Our dreams of heavenly tranquility, our straining after a paradise above, separate us from the real sources of life under our bootsoles; the result is dehumanization. At the end of "To Elsie," Williams delineates his culture with the image of a driverless car.

The pure products of America have gone crazy: abstracted, swift-moving, brutal. The driverless car is another modern version of Pluto, god of avarice and rape, the mythic embodiment of man's dream of dominion. It is from this narcissistic dream that Williams's poems attempt to jolt us awake.

From William Carlos Williams: An American Artist. Copyright 1970 by James E. Brolin.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title James E. Breslin: On "To Elsie" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James E. Breslin Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication William Carlos Williams: An American Artist
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