Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Close Reading of William Carlos Williams' “Young Woman at a Window”

A close reading of “Young Woman at a Window” by William Carlos Williams reveals that it demonstrates many of the imagist elements that we have learned about in the class, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. This essay will examine the differences between Version 1 and Version 2 of the poem, and determine which seems to be more effectively aligned with Imagism.

First, we will give a brief summary of the poem and what it is about. Next, we will analyze three key differences between Version 1 and Version 2 and explain in each case how that does or does not go along with the principles of the Imagist manifesto. Finally, we will conclude which poem is more closely aligned with Imagism.

At the basic level, this poem is about a woman sitting with a young child. We are watching her, possibly riding in a train in Version 2 (since the child’s nose is “pressed to the glass”). We don’t know what the woman is sad about. At a higher level, this poem may be a metaphor for one generation’s suffering to make sure they have provided adequately for the next.

Looking at the differences between Version 1 and Version 2, we begin with the first line. In Version 1, it says “she sits *there* with tears on her cheek”, while in Version 2 it simply says “she sits with tears on her cheek”. Version 2 is more Imagist in this case. The Imagist manifesto states that we should not deal in vague generalities. The word “there” does not add anything to the precise description of the scene. It is an empty word that is about the place where the woman is sitting. By removing this word in Version 2, Williams adds to the Imagism of that line.

The next difference we examine is the most critical. In Version 1, it says “this little child who robs her knows nothing of his theft”, while in Version 2 it simply says “the child in her lap”. Version 2 again is more Imagist. The Imagist manifesto states that we should use precise visual images. Here “child in her lap” is far more precise than “child who robs her knows nothing of his theft”. All of that extra information certainly adds to the narrative, but is not about the image itself. Version 2 is also more condensed, which we know is another important tenet of Williams’ Imagism. This change is so important because in Version 2 the poem is much more open and the reader needs to do the hard work to interpret the image. Version 1 provides too much information about the background story, which is not related to describing the image itself.

The final difference to examine is at the end of the poem. In Version 1, it says “but rubs his nose”, while in Version 2 it says “his nose pressed to the glass”. Again, Version 2 adheres more closely to the Imagist manifesto. Imagism should be hard and clear, and never blurred nor indefinite. The child rubbing his nose is not nearly as precise an image as pressing his nose to the glass. It is also clearer as to the motivation of the child. There are many reasons a child may rub his nose – he may have an itch, he may be tired, he may have to sneeze – but when he is pressing his nose to the glass, we know it is because he wants to see what is out there. This represents that he is striving for something, possibly something that his mother lamentably knows that she will not be able to provide.

All of the changes we examined here imply that Williams wrote Version 2 after Version 1, and that Version 2 fits more closely in the Imagist model. We know that some of his poems started out as full stories that he ultimately condensed down to one or two lines. Here, we have the opportunity to witness a piece of that process taking place. By examining how other poets improve their work to fit in with their goals, this can also help us as poets to improve our ability to implement a similar process of improvement to our own work.


At 9:26 AM, Blogger BrianM said...

Great job!


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