Since today is the birthday of William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) and tomorrow happens to be my thirty-fourth birthday, the following prose-poem (by the great modernist poet who famously proclaimed: “Say it, no ideas but in things”) seems most appropriate for this day:
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, XII.
by William Carlos Williams
The browned trees are singing for my thirty-fourth birthday. Leaves are beginning to fall upon the long grass. Their cold perfume raises the anticipation of sensational revolutions in my unsettled life. Violence has begotten peace, peace has fluttered away in agitation. A bewildered change has turned among the roots and the Prince’s kiss as far at sea as ever.
To each age as to each person its perfections. But in these things there is a kind of revolutionary sequence. So that a man having lain at ease here and advanced there as time progresses the order of these things becomes inverted. Thinking to have brought all to one level the man finds his foot striking through where he had thought rock to be and stands firm where he had experienced only a bog hitherto. At a loss to free himself from bewilderment at this discovery he puts off the caress of the imagination.
The trick is never to touch the world anywhere. Leave yourself at the door, walk in, admire the pictures, talk a few words with the master of the house, question his wife a little, rejoin yourself at the door—and go off arm in arm listening to last week’s symphony played by angel hornsmen from the benches of a turned cloud. Or if dogs rub too close and the poor are too much out let your friend answer them.
The poet being sad at the misery he has beheld that morning and seeing several laughing fellows approaching puts himself in their way in order to hear what they are saying. Gathering from their remarks that it is of some sharp business by which they have all made an inordinate profit, he allows his thoughts to play back upon the current of his own life. And imagining himself to be two persons he eases his mind by putting his burdens upon one while the other takes what pleasure there is before him.
Something to grow used to; a stone too big for ox haul, too near for blasting. Take the road round it or—scrape away, scrape away: a mountain’s buried in the dirt! Marry a gopher to help you! Drive her in! Go yourself down along the lit pastures. Down, down. The whole family take shovels, babies and all! Down, down! Here’s Tenochtitlan! here’s a strange Darien where worms are princes.
But for broken feet beating, beating on worn flagstones I would have danced to my knees at the fiddle’s first run. But here’s evening and there they scamper back of the world chasing the sun round! And it’s daybreak in Calcutta! So lay aside, let’s draw off from the town and look back awhile. See, there it rises out of the swamp and the mists already blowing their sleepy bagpipes.
Often a poem will have merit because of some one line or even one meritorious word. So it hangs heavily on its stem but still secure, the tree unwilling to release it.