The Art of Domestic Husbandry: Paterson

  • Ron Callan


In arguing for a constant in the extraordinary range of Williams’s work, a paradox emerges in that this invariant is located in the give and take of the activity of relating. To locate a closure which favours either extreme, or to present an overarching ideal which smothers extremes is, in his aesthetic, to achieve only sterility in which ‘the paralytic is confirmed / in his paralysis’ (CP2 263). Seeking neither to rape nor seduce, fertile intercourse is assured only by its adherence to the conditions of metaphor where identity and intercourse are not mutually exclusive. Here it is that Williams earns his ability to be liberated. Here it is that he can move from the intensity of the lyric to the expansiveness of the epic. In doing so, as he does in Paterson, he proceeds as he had developed his poetics. Firstly he must establish a sense of identity which can be relied upon to be accurate. This is possible only by the recognition of an internal dualism. By exposing himself to that dance, Williams patiently earns his acts of intercourse and ensures their fecundity. The conclusiveness which Benjamin Sankey desires of Paterson is thus not available in this aesthetic and what he terms an ‘impressive experiment’ is actually a passionate commitment to the conditions of metaphor.1


Sandstone Radium Smoke Hunt Ghost 


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Benjamin Sankey, A Companion to William Carlos Williams’ Paterson (London: University of California Press, 1971), p. 226.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hugh Kenner, A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers (London: Marion Boyars, 1977Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Robert Lowell, ‘Williams’ Platonism’ in The Nation, 19 June 1948, 692–4, rpt in Robert Lowell: Collected Prose, ed. and introd. Robert Giroux (London: Faber & Faber, 1987), p. 34.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Joel Conarroe, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson: Language and Landscape (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970), p. 143.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Joan Nay, ‘William Carlos Williams and the Singular Woman’, in William Carlos Williams Review, XI, 2 (Fall, 1985), p. 53.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Cress is identified as Marcia Nardi in Mike Weaver, William Carlos Williams: The American Background (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 201.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    W. B. Yeats, The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1950), p. 241.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Evans Slate, ‘William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane and “The Virtue of History”’, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, VI, 4 (Winter 1965), 510–11.Google Scholar
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    James Guimond, The Art of William-Carlos Williams: A Discovery and Possession of America (London: University of Illinois Press, 1968), pp. 182–3.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Margaret Glynne Lloyd, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson: A Critical Reappraisal (USA: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated Universities Press, 1980), p. 76.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Walter Scott Peterson, An Approach to Paterson (London: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 68.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, in Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London: Faber & Faber, 1974), p. 17.Google Scholar
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    Sandra M. Gilbert, ‘Purloined Letters: William Carlos Williams and “Cress”’, in William Carlos Williams Review, XI, 2 (Fall 1985), p. 11.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    Ibid., p. 11; Gay Sibley, ‘Documents of Presumption: The Satiric Use of the Ginsberg Letters in William Carlos Williams’ Paterson’, in American Literature, LV, 1 (March 1983) 3Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    Ralph Nash, ‘The Use of Prose in “Paterson”’, in Perspective, VI (Autumn 1953), 197.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Mutlu Konuk Biasing, The Art of Life: Studies in American Autobiographical Literature (London: University of Texas Press, 1977), p. 137.Google Scholar
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    Anthony Libby, Mythologies of Nothing: Mystical Death in American Poetry, 1940–1970 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), p. 40.Google Scholar
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    Guy Davenport, ‘The Nuclear Venus: Dr. Williams Attack on Usura’, in Perspective, VI (Autumn 1953), 189.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Tapscott, ‘Williams, Sappho, and the Woman-as-Other’, in William Carlos Williams Review, XI, 2 (Fall 1985), p. 30.Google Scholar
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    Emily Dickinson, Poem 1129, in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (London: Faber & Faber, 1970), p. 506.Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Williams, ‘New from New Directions’, 31 May 1951, n. pag. quoted in Stephen Tapscott, American Beauty: William Carlos Williams and the Modernist Whitman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 185.Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    John C. Thirwall, ‘William Carlos Williams’ “Paterson”: The Search for the Redeeming Language — A Personal Epic in Five Parts’, in New Directions in Prose and Poetry, 17, ed. James Laughlin (New York: New Directions, 1961), p. 290.Google Scholar
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    A. Kingsley Weatherhead, The Edge of the Image: Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams and some other poets (London: University of Washington Press, 1967), p. 133.Google Scholar
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    John Malcolm Brinnin, William Carlos Williams, University of Minnesota Pamphlets, No. 24 (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, 1963), p. 42.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ron Callan 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ron Callan
    • 1
  1. 1.Dickinson CollegeCarlisleUSA

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