The work of American poet William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) is best known for its sharp and clear imagery, and this poem gives a good account of it. It is often claimed that it is based on Alfred Steiglitz‘s 1902 photograph, Spring Showers (below right), although the poem goes much deeper to explore the Sycamore as, as the critics put it, ‘the tree of life’ and thus continuing the theme of our last Monday poem. Enjoy.
The Young Sycamore
I must tell you
this young tree
whose round and firm trunk
between the wet
pavement and the gutter
is trickling) rises
into the air with
thrust half its height-
dividing and waning
young branches on
hung with cocoons
till nothing is left of it
hornlike at the top
William Carlos Williams
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Shaila Perez Rivera
Dr. Leonardo Flores
March 8th 2010
The young housewife
At ten AM the young housewife
moves about in negligee behind
the wooden walls of her husband’s house.
I pass solitary in my car.
Then again she comes to the curb
to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands
shy, uncorseted, tucking in
stray ends of hair, and I compare her
to a fallen leaf.
The noiseless wheels of my car
rush with a crackling sound over
dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.
Williams is one of the three better known modern American male poets whose works include a wide range of portraits of individual women. The difference is that Williams’s interest is consistently both social and erotic. His perspective on women is rich and varied and generally affirmative; moreover, Williams often treats men and women the same way; that does not exempt Williams from charges of sexism. He certainly fragments men’s and women’s bodies to describe them, but the most often does so in order to assemble either telling portraits of whole persons or representative characterizations of societies social positioning.
This poem while apparently simple, utilizes a three-part temporal framework. Seems like an easy read to some, but important tidbits about the poem can be passed if not observed properly. Williams uses a series of images to capture a brief moment in time, to express desire, emotion and appreciation. The poem consists of three stanzas of varying length and each share in a similar method; do not follow a rhyme scheme. Each stanza starts out with somewhat broad statements about the scene, and as they each progress, they become more specific until the image is pinned down to a specific moment in time. The poet uses a few words that imply sexism, for example the young housewife has a role, she is in the house taking care of the duties and the only moment she can go out is to buy ice or fish while her husband may be is in his work, all she has to do is wait for him to return from work and she will be at his disposal. He charged the poem with sexuality and sensual images when he describes her wearing a negligee, an expression of fantasy emerges and suddenly desires are brought about when she comes to the curb. Wishing she was calling him and not the other “men” (Williams, 6).
The description of the tone in the first section implies that she is trapped in this house and is unreachable except when she comes out to do the daily routine. He observed her and looks at her as a woman who is begging for attention and is desperate because she is no longer attractive. He compares her to a fallen leaf not because of her physical nature per-say, but of her soul, probably because she is unhappy and insecure of herself. Maybe she doesn’t have a developed identity because of her youth and the negligee behind the wooden walls of her husband’s house. The wooden walls are the major physical barriers that hide her from her dreams, ideas, and desires. Also the curb seems to be an outside barrier, notice that isn’t the sidewalk, the curb emphasizes the border line between public and private property.
The second strophe is the most important, it’s the climax of this poem, because here is when he saw her, desired her and compared her to a fallen leaf. He emphasizes the way she looks by the circumstances that she appears to be in. In line 7 he uses enjambment, the readers assumption that what the young woman would be “tucking in” would be her garment but which turns out to be, in next line, “stray ends of hair”. That line reveals elements of vanity, she wants to look attractive, and she is flirting with him.It is not until the end that he mentioned the dry leaves, dry would imply her weakness and falling that she is a victim of circumstances. Maybe she was battered or mistreated by her husband; she couldn’t be outgoing and express her emotions and feelings. It seems like the young housewife lives by the domain of her husband and the only way to escape from that is to exposure her situation at the curb. Many women could be going through what she is experiencing and that’s the reason of the crackling sound, many are trying to be free and in control of their own sexuality.
Baker, Peter. Ahearn Barry. On "The Young Housewife" Modern American Poetry.1986. 6 Mar. 2010
Carlos-Williams, Williams. “The Young Housewife”. 27 Feb2010.