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The persona in this poem is not the poet but the widow whose soliloquy reflects clearly her state of mind through simple vocabulary and somewhat irrational transitions. The paradox of flaming "cold fire" foreshadows the conflict between bright colors and her life's drabness; the enclosure of the same cold fire foreshadows the conclusion, in which she is smothered both physically and emotionally by whiteness. The widow tries to speak in short restrained sentences but her emotion breaks through three times--once in the initial metaphor, then more forcefully midway through the poem, and finally in the last sentence, where the two and's imply another surge of feeling.

The simplicity of the vocabulary also adds poignancy; it reveals the woman as distraught and inarticulate. One does not question the genuineness of the stark "Thirtyfive years/ I lived with my husband." The contrast of "formerly" and "before" with "this year" and "today," the last used three times in the short poem, stresses the immediacy of the widow's loss.

Structurally the poem is much more complex than "Le Medecin." Williams worked here with two kinds of statement--emotional and descriptive--the juxtaposition of the two serving almost as figurative expression. Beyond the first metaphor, personal narrative precedes factual description, the two sections culminating in the flowers-grief figure. Then the pattern is repeated, leading to the climax in which the sacramental white flowers are correlated with the ultimate of sorrow, the death wish. This use of section as a kind of metaphor, which I have termed "transitional metaphor" for ease of reference, occurs often in later poems. The alert reader assumes that the poet has a reason for this positioning, and so relates the two sections.


From The Poems of William Carlos Williams: A Critical Study. Middletown, CN: Wesleyan UP, 1964. Copyright 1964 by Linda Welshimer Wagner.