Barry Ahearn: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace"

"Queen-Anne's-Lace" also questions the subordination of floral imagery to female attributes. Poets have so often tended to link women with flowers that it has become a cultural commonplace, one so well established that the association has become automatic. But Williams forestalls that automatic cultural reflex. He begins with a negation rather than an affirmation: "Her body is not so white as. . ." He then begins removes the woman's body from the insubstantial and decorative floral confines and asks us to think in terms of a field. Later he drops that for a larger metaphor: the field plus the flowers in the field. It may be that Williams aims to revive an archaic comprehension of the earth as a goddess, an interpretation that poets had long since discarded.

We also find a suggestion of class struggle in the poem. "Queen-Anne's-Lace" comes fourth in a quartet of poems about flowers, but it is the only one to bear a woman's name. In fact, most common flowers are not named for women. (One obvious exception--The Blackeyed Susan--appears at the end of Spring and All.) Williams uses this plant with a regal name because the poem emphasizes the "whiteness" of the woman/flower. In Williams's younger days, pallor was still associated with the upper-classes and aristocratic leisure. But the poem gives short shrift to aristocratic reserve and high-mindedness. The regal becomes rooted in a "white desire," "a pious wish to whiteness gone over--" as if the true test of sovereignty is its origin in the soil and in fertility ritual.

From William Carlos Williams and Alterity. Copyright © 1994 by Cambridge University Press.


Title Barry Ahearn: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Barry Ahearn Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication William Carlos Williams and Alterity: The Early Poetry
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