More Poetry Questions

Wallace Stevens: (Ellmann 149-168) "Sunday Morning" is a kind of meditation, but on what issues? Say why you think as you do and point to specific passages to support your answer. Did the woman in the poem go to church this Sunday? Why or why not? What answer(s) does the poet give to question the woman asks in stanza IV? Do you think the speaker and / or the woman find any solace?

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" can be seen as a series of imagist poems. Imagist poetry was influenced by Chinese and Japanese short poems. For example, here are three short haiku, written by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):
Upon a bare branch
a crow has descended—
autumn in evening
The cool of autumn:
let's each of us peel his own
melons and eggplant. 
Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree

Imagist poems strive to say more than their literal meaning, but often they avoid allegory or even metaphor. What is that more in these poems? What do you think might be the point(s) of such a poetry? Which is your favorite way of looking at a blackbird and why?

"Anecdote of the Jar" How can a simple jar "take dominion" over a wilderness? In what ways could the speaker's placing of the jar be seen as an artistic act? Compare and contrast with poems I, II, VIII, IX, and XIII of "Thirteen Ways." In what ways are this poem and "The Snow Man" like a haiku? (In what ways can you relate "not to think" with "nothing"?) Who or what is the "Snow Man"? How do you interpret the last three lines of that poem?

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" What scene is described in the second stanza? Compare and contrast the images in stanza one with those in stanza two. How do you think these images relate to the last two lines in stanza one?

William Carlos Williams (Ellmann 168-199)

"Between Walls" Williams wrote to the poet and critic Babette Deutsch about this poem: "I suppose that the green bottle piece is a pure imagistic poem--if such a thing exists. It was, that piece, roasted by someone in England when the Collected Poems appeared, by which the whole book was thrown into the discard much to my delight. I always enjoy seeing an ass set himself back twenty to forty years or more by his insistences. There's nothing very subtle about the poem; all it means, as far as I know, is that in a waste of cinders loveliness, in the form of color, stands up alive. . . . But your interpretation, tho not specifically intended, fits perfectly and is quite "true." The cinders are a "lie" as death is a lie contrasted with life. But I wasn't that clever, I wish I could say that I had been" (Letters 264-265).

"The Rose" In what ways could the rose be "obsolete"? (Compare to Cummings' "Buffalo Bill's / defunct".) What are some of the traditional poetic associations or connotations of roses? What do you think Williams means when he says that the "rose carried the weight of love"? In what ways could the rose's edge be said to be steel or copper? Why do you think the poet concentrates on the edge of the rose? Could this poem be about art in some way?

"To Elsie" Elsie was the name of Williams' maid. In what ways do you think the first two lines are true? Give examples. What is it that the "mountain folk" and "slatterns" of the first eight stanzas "can not express"? What do you think the "it" of stanza 20 could refer to? Give reasons for your answers. How could witnessing, adjusting, and driving the car be related to the imagination? [Both "The Rose" and "To Elsie" are from Spring and All.]

"A Sort of Song" [Saxifrage = herb that grows in rock crevices; the word is Latin for "rock-breaking."] How can "people" and "stones" be reconciled through metaphor? (Think of Whitman.) Can you relate the image in the last two lines to the rest of the poem? How?

"Spring and All" This poem seems like an imagist poem, but it can also be seen as metaphorical. Name some metaphorical possibilities for images like "they enter a new world naked," "clarity, outline of leaf," and "rooted, they / grip down and begin to awaken."

"Portrait of a Lady" Is the title accurate? [Compare with Ezra Pound's "Portrait d'une femme" (216).] In some ways, this is a traditional poem of praise: parts of a lady's anatomy (legs) are compared to nature. In what ways is the poem non-traditional?

"The Great Figure," "The Red Wheelbarrow," and "This is Just to Say" Williams said in an interview that "Anything is good material for poetry. Anything." He says later in the same interview: "In prose, an English word means what is says. In poetry, you're listening to two things . . . you're listening to the sense, the common sense of what it says. But it says more. That's the difficulty" (Paterson 225). What do you think is the more in these poems?

Who owns "The Yachts"? What do you admire and what do you hate about the yachts?

"The Young Housewife" Do you think this just another imagist poem, or is something else happening here? Comment on the leaf imagery. How do the formal qualities (rhythm, sound, other repetitions) of "The Dance" echo its meaning?

Works Cited

Williams, William Carlos. Paterson. New York: New Directions, 1963.

- - -. Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams. Ed. John C. Thirlwall. New York: New Directions, 1984.

H.D. questions and notes (Ellmann 235-243)

How are "leaf / and leaf-shadow" both lost in "Evening"? [hypaticas = woodland plants with white or lavender flowers. Sometimes spelled hepatica, also called "liverleaf," "liverwort." cornel: perhaps she means the dwarf cornel, which has "inconspicuous green flowers surrounded by white, petallike bracts."] In "The Garden" why do you suppose the speaker cannot "stir" (get up)? What could "the heat" stand for in this poem? In "Oread" In what ways is there a unity between speaker and nature? "Helen" is of course a comment on Greek mythology, literature, and history. But what does it say about love and hate, about blaming women? (Compare to Yeats’ "Leda and the Swan.")

H. D.’s "Fragment Sixty Eight" was originally titled "Envy" and may refer to Richard Aldington's entry into the army in World War I. Why do you suppose the speaker envies her lover's chance at death? In Sappho's (?) Fragment 68, Aphrodite (goddess of love) says, "I too / blamed you, / yet Sappho / I loved you. / In Kypros I am Queen / and to you a power / as sun of fire / is a glory to all. / Even in Hades / I am with you" (trans. Barnstone).