Sour Grapes (1921)
William Carlos Williams


O my grey hairs!
You are truly white as plum blossoms.

In spite of the burden of his medical practice and a young family, Williams published four books of verse, Al Que Quiere! (1917), Kora in Hell (1920), Sour Grapes(1921), and Spring and All (1921), that visibly launched him as America's leading modernist. It was throughout the 1920s and 1930s while Williams labored mainly in anonymity during his stint with Robert McAlmom editing Contact where strong ideas arose to bond the earth with the reality of life. Soon the editors of the short-lived publication insisted that art stem from everyday life.

This celebration of the everyday came in part from a response to archaic forms of expression. Early in the century, poets of the movement known as imagism included many American poets. In addition to Pound and Lowell, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and William Carlos Williams–turned from ideas to things. They endeavored successfully to use a detached depiction of objects in the world, an approach that could truly create a deep emotional response in the reader.

Williams’ work was frequently published in both Pound's and Amy Lowell's Imagist collections of poetry. Hence his first successful poems adhere essentially to the dictates of Imagism. The poems from this period of his life illustrate Williams steadily fashioning his elastic enjambment modes from the unrefined textile of run of the mill Modernist verse. They expose a gathering of distinctive imagery, alongside his desire to prove that he really values them. Words are used to envision short scenes and vivid objects. From time to time they pay homage to Eastern precedents and the subject of living life, love and the nature of truth and beauty, many of which are encapsulated within the metaphor of fruit. Profoundly influenced by Chinese and Japanese poets, Williams composed verse in which the existence of an object took center stage.

In this manner Williams shapes his response to the forces around him and Spring is no exception. Like summer spiders, an autumn moon or the winter bush warbler of the well seasoned haiku. The poet brings to the reader spring plum blossoms. He does a stunning job of putting such a simple sentence before the reader and allowing the mind's eye to clearly place it in an 8 X 10 mental Rolodex.


Original text: "Spring," Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921): 58. York University Library Special Collections 4748.

Selected Poetry of William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) :

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William Carlos Williams :

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