Peter Schmidt: On "Spring and All"

As the poem begins "on the road to the contagious hospital," Williams has difficulty seeing any outline or order: "mottled," "patches," "waste," and "scattering" are some of the words he uses.His problems culminate in the third stanza, where inexact adjectives, often afflicted with the suffixes "-ish" or "-y," glut an entire line before a noun can be found. And even then the noun is imprecise: "All along the road the reddish / purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy / stuff . . . " Like the contagious diseases in the hospital Williams drives toward, imprecision is a contagion of the mind, potentially fatal.

As "one by one objects are defined by the advancing season, however, Williams' language is also reborn, and he can identify the wildcarrot, the only named species in the poem. His battle to see and to name has a "stark dignity" equal to spring's battle with winter, or a chicory's battle to create light from darkness. Like the plants, the poet's mind must "grip down," struggling to wrest a name from anonymity, The right name is a strong root; new poetry, and a new world, will grow from it as invincibly as the wildcarrot leaf uncurls,

"Spring and All" shows that Williams' pastoral lyrics use an archetypal plot borrowed from and Biblical myth: the occurence of an Eden or a Golden Age, man's loss and its eventual return. In the Bible, of course, such an advent signifies the end of history, whereas in Vergil inaugurates yet another historical cycle. Williams well represents romanticism's distinctive revision of this myth. The large historical cycles between Iron and Golden Ages, or Old Adam and New Messiah, are internalized and speeded up; the rebirth experienced in "Spring and All" is continually lost, found, and lost again.

From "Some Versions of Modernist Pastoral: Williams and the Precisionists." Contemporary Literature 21:3 (1980), 383-406

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Criticism Overview
Title Peter Schmidt: On "Spring and All" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Schmidt Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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