Aug 3, 2011

W.C. Williams, "To Waken An Old Lady"

I think most people take William Carlos Williams’ famous dictum, “No ideas but in things,” to mean a preference for the physical, the image, over abstract ideas and generalizations. That seems to be the founding principle of The Imagist Movement.

I don’t know if this is odd or wrong, but I also hear “No ideas but in things” as encouragement to see things in isolation, creatures or objects explored completely and more or less alone, in relief, against backdrops that are secondary or insignificant. I think of the dragonfly here yesterday as an example.

So here is yet another cardinal, quite alone and very loud in a treetop. What a braggart he was. What a horny pitcher of woo. And I think he was an adolescent—that’s morning sun on him, yet he is as close to rusty-brown-orange as he is to red.

I don’t think he’s one of the birds William Carlos Williams had in mind in his fine poem, “To Waken an Old Lady,” but I’m not going to wait for winter and snow to include this poem and photograph.

To Waken An Old Lady by William Carlos Williams

Because I can hear you nagging about my bad timing and lack of patience, I’ll re-post the song sparrow, who's more suited to Williams' poem and who also seems alone and prominent against his backdrop. But to me the backdrop might be as interesting as the bird; it flatters him.

Bird Songs and Sound of Song Sparrow

If the birds are “things,” what ideas might they create or involve? If Williams or you wrote a poem about one, what idea might he or you be driving at? Would either bird create the same kinds of ideas without the backdrops?

To Waken An Old Lady by William Carlos Williams


Anonymous said...

The poem doesn't do anything for me, but I'm enchanted by the bird site.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"No ideas but in things” I don't get it. Even with your help it remains elusive. Image or object are points of departure for me. I'm not familiar with the Imagist School and I'm now curious.

On a related note (yes, unusual for me) I had an art history instructor whom I disliked...the one that said "visiting the Norton Simon was like visiting old friends" He would teach the course (1900-1945) dissecting every line, dot and brush hair until we were snoring . But on the term paper, he expected us to be able to cross platform what he had taught us, to all the great ideas of that period. Example: the breaking down of form (cubism) to quantum iphysics. Like we knew these things exisited? Less time on the strokes and more on the history. What a loss of valuable time. I have a feeling I'm going to discover a related field when I wiki the Imagist school

I have a hard time comparing the aging process to seasons. California winters come alive but summers can make me feel old.

love the bird site

btw: I dedicated my latest blog episode to you and poetry

Shelley said...

The cardinal is always an inspiring subject to me! :-)

PJ said...

I think it's too early in the year for me to contemplate this poem. Too wintry and besides I think Wms is mistaken in thinking that birds defying gravity conjure up the aging process.

I have to say though, your photographs are wonderful. Is that a Chipping Sparrow or Clay? I think Clay is the rarest of the two so I'll assume the former until I look at Sibley's.

Also, I watched "Ghost Writer" today. Have you reviewed that yet? that's my idea of a great film - I forget who the shameless, dissolute director is.

Banjo52 said...

AH, there's just amazing stuff on birds throughout the internet. It's great.

PA, My sense of WCW's line: quit theorizing about the world (ideas) and start seeing it better (things). It's probably kin to "Show, don't Tell." The image is everything. Of course, WCW is the guy who begins his most famous poem ("The Red Wheelbarrow") with and idea: "So much depends/upon" etc.

PA, I've been watching a bit of Morgan Freeman's "Through the Wormhole" and I just might get a particle of the comparison between quantum physics and cubism. Of course, the question remains, is it your prof's particle?

Nothing is normal in California.

That was a sweet post about Marcus and his poem at your place. Thanks for the plug.

Shelley, welcome. Nice photos at your place! As for cardinals, maybe if I lived on the Amazon, they wouldn't be so special, but in Michigan, they are divine messengers, especially in winter.

Paula, I had second thoughts about the poem because it would be such a good winter poem, but it was pretty much ready to go, and I was afraid I'd forget it if I waited till winter.

And as far as I know, it's a song sparrow, but some sparrow species are so similar . . .

I've gotta double check Ghost Writer, but I'm sure I didn't review it.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, yes, I liked it a lot, but after two hours, I felt the burden of that cold grey land- and skyscape.

I keep wondering why they gave it the same title as a Philip Roth novel . . .

Brenda's Arizona said...

Old age is a small flight of cheeping birds...
what is young age like? I wonder which birds WCW would associate with young age?

Great bird jam link! And your photos... as always!

Lovers' Lane