Joseph Riddel: On "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, Book I"

"Asphodel". . .speaks from a plane beyond differentiation, from the site of memory where "all appears/ as if seen/ wavering through water," perspectiveless like the time of beginning itself. It is a "cry/ of recognition" which penetrates the veil of history to connect his "Approaching death" with his origins. Interestingly, it has been the poem most praised by critics because of Williams' late breakthrough, presumably like Stevens', to a new lyricism. And this signifies not simply an advance beyond Paterson but a reversal, perhaps, ironically, a return to the tradition. But the tradition to which "Asphodel" appeals is that of the "rituals of the hunt/ on the walls/ of prehistoric// caves in the Pyrenees." As was suggested earlier, the caves offer man a present entry into time and place, of the primordial origins of art itself. At the impending moment of his own death, the poet sings of origins: the "cave" which is both beginning and end, and the "hunt" or quest to which man is compelled in his desire.

"Asphodel". . .comes very near to suggesting a poetics no longer resigned to failure or to the hermeneutical circle. It comes very near to insisting that the "secret word" has been possessed, the son reconciled with the father, and thus a language fully achieved--that the "place/ dedicated in the imagination/ to memory// of the dead" has come to be more real than the world. . . .It is not a poem of quest or effort, but a dream of virtue recovered and held "against time."

From The Inverted Bell: Modernism and the Counterpoetics of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1974 by Louisiana State University Press.


Title Joseph Riddel: On "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, Book I" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Joseph Riddel Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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