If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
'I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!'
If I admire my arms, my face
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not
The happy genius of my household?

-William Carlos Williams, 1917.

William Carlos Williams as a 20th Century American poet did a lot to affirm "free verse" and its long lasting fellowship with Imagism by supporting its virtues. Freien Rhythmen, vers libre and a less precise term, free verse, are all references to the rhythmic elements in poetry that is provided by other means than the usual models of stressed and unstressed syllables. The main techniques are visual clues and repetition, but the concept is that if you are not committed to a recurring quantitative rhythm you can more precisely match the "real" rhythm to what you are expressing. Much has been discussed about the pros and cons of this method, and some have examined about whether "free verse" is poetry at all.

William married Flossie (Florence Herman) in 1912 and by fall 1916 they had two boys. Kathleen in line two refers to Kathleen McBride, the Williams' orphan nanny. Danse Russe (original text: William Carlos Williams, A Book of Poems. Al Que Quiere!, 1917) shows a number of techniques for creating an non-quantitative intrinsic rhythm. Composed perhaps in 1916 shortly after the Ballets Russes, led by composer Sergei Diaghilev and dancer Waslaw Nijinsky, performed in New York.

Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh--and singularly American--poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. His influence as a poet spread slowly during the twenties and thirties, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot's "The Waste Land"; however, his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor.

William Carlos Williams :

Journalist and poet Don Marquis created the reincarnation of a vers libre bard-- a character named archy who was a cockroach. Hurling himself from the typewriter frame onto a key and forcing it down archy typed his words out. Unable to use the shift key at the same time all his poems were in lower case. A sundry, but similar, question in his poem "mehitabel was once cleopatra" archy asked:

boss i am disappointed
in some of your readers they
are always asking how does
archy work the shift so as to get a
new line or how does archy do
this or do that they
are always interested in technical
details when the main question is
whether the stuff
is literature or not

Technical details aside I think archy would have said "this stuff is literature." With plots involving imaginary identifications Williams displays a sense of abandon in his Danse Russe. Composed of ordinary speech of everyday situations this marvelously intricate poem calls to mind Eloit's Prufrock where the speaker is clearly a solipsist though he has found a completely different way of living with that solipsism. When he turns to himself in the conventional lyric space of self-possession, the only self he cares about is the one that manages to be unbeholden to some examining eye or possessing spouse. He renders a scene like a painter, standing out as a vertical force in a horizontal landscape, he is the composer, and happy genius of his household. His self conception in front of the mirror is the found object as he reflects upon him by himself.

In reading Williams one has to engage the moment without attempting to build upon it. Accept what the moment gives as the poet focuses energy on the immediacy of feelings won by holding off the demands of the imaginary ego.


Marquis, Don. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001:

mehitabel was once Cleopatra text taken from:

William Carlos Williams - The Academy of American Poets :

CST Approved

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