Richard Gray: On "The Young Sycamore"

Williams' purpose remains the same: to emphathise or identify with the thing, not just to describe it but to imitate it in words, to allow it to express itself, to give it verbal shape, a voice. And the immediate consequence of this aim is, not surprisingly, a commitment to free verse: rhythms that follow the shape of the object and that respond to the exigencies of a specific occasion. 'I must tell you', begins Williams in 'Young Sycamore': the address is characteristically urgent and intimate, as if the poet were speaking under the pressure of immediate experience. And, having grabbed our attention, he then directs it to the object, whose contours are caught in the curve, pitch and sway of the free verse lines. . . .

The use of tactile references here is characteristic: in a sense, the poet is trying to 'touch' the tree,and make us touch it - to achieve contact (an important word for Williams) and, for a moment, live the life of another thing. And equally characteristic is the pattern of verbs and verbals: Williams, like Whitman, sees life as process, constant motion. As in a painting by Van Gogh, there is a sense of the tree as animate life, thrusting towards the sky and continuing to grow long after the artist's imitation of it is finished.

Not that it is ever definitively finished: like so many of Williams's poems, 'Young Sycamore' does not end, it simply stops short without a full stop or even any punctuation mark. . . .

Excitedly, our attention has been drawn up the tree, from its base to its topmost twigs, and we are left gazing at what will be: alteration, new growth requiring new poems. The sense of possibility with which the poem leaves us is quietly accentuated by the fact that the sentence with which it begins is never completed. All of the poem from the third line on ('whose round and firm trunk.. .') is a subordinate clause; Williams never returns to the main clause of the first two lines; the reader is consequently left (whether he is consciously aware of the reasons for it or not) with feelings of openness and incompleteness utterly appropriate in a world governed by change.

From American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. Copyright © 1990 by Longman Group Ltd.

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Criticism Overview
Title Richard Gray: On "The Young Sycamore" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Richard Gray Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
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