Peter Baker: On "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, Book I"

In Williams' very last poems, the conflict of engendering the work of art subsides somewhat. As we have seen previously (Chapter One), the more radical poetic practice of early Williams tied to memory as the place where this imaginative conflict occurs, yields in the later poems to a vision of personal memory. Perhaps not surprisingly, this later development allows Williams to write some of his most moving love poems, among them "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (PB, 153-182). Thus we come to an examination of Williams' later style in full awareness of its permutations. The compassionate understanding present throughout his work here takes the form of a love poem written to his wife Flossie.

I want to examine the end of the poem where the poet/speaker describes the memory of his wedding:

For our wedding, too, 

                the light was wakened 

                                    and shone. The light! 

the light stood before us 

                waiting! 

                                    I thought the world 

stood still. 

                At the altar 

                                    so intent was I 

before my vows, 

                so moved by your presence 

                                    a girl so pale 

and ready to faint 

                that I pitied 

                                    and wanted to protect you. 

As I think of it now, 

                after a lifetime, 

                                    it is as if 

a sweet-scented flower 

                were poised 

                                    and for me did open. 

Asphodel 

                has no odor 

                                    save to the imagination 

but it too 

                celebrates the light. 

                                    It is late 

but an odor 

                as from our wedding 

                                    has revived for me 

and begun again to penetrate 

                into all crevices 

                                    of my world.

Although I almost feel it as an impertinence to offer a commentary to this poem, I think we might notice the quality of gentle precision in the diction here. In ''as if / a sweet-scented flower / were poised / and for me did open," the somewhat archaic verb form at the end seems to render the gentle touch of someone who is being very careful. The world of which the poet speaks at the end of the poem is a world known well by any student of Williams' work. His is a freedom born of compassion, earned in the conflict of the imagination, and exemplified in the grace of an unmatched expressive style.

From Modern Poetic Practice: Structure and Genesis. New York: Peter Lang, 1986.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Peter Baker: On "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, Book I" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Baker Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Modern Poetic Practice: Structure and Genesis
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