Doctor Poet

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On Today’s Menu:

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** Share some plummy birthday cake
for a man scribbling verse between house calls.
** Linger to ponder how to bring the written word to life.
** Savor a last ½ cup smiling over some painting-inspired poetry.
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First Sip:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack of what is found there.

– William Carlos Williams

detail of The Harvesters (1565)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC) 1


Slice of Cake:

William Carlos Williams
even his name is a poem!

His poems are brief and brilliant.
And I love how such few words—
infused with images, like a tincture—
seem to sparkle as they pour from the page into my mind.

Not all his poems are short!
Asphodel, That Greeny Flower
has 367 lines!
(I quote just 5 of its lines in First Sip above.)

The poet W. H. Auden called this long poem by Williams
‘one of the most beautiful poems in the language.’ 3

But Williams seems best known for ones like this:
It’s a single sentence; it’s about a cat;
and it’s titled simply ‘Poem’…

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty

William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey.

But at age 13, he left Rutherford for Europe where his parents sent him to school—
first in Geneva, Switzerland then in Paris, France.
He returned to America for high school at Horace Mann High School in New York City.2

It was during high school that William wrote his first poems.
And when he decided he wanted to be a writer and a doctor.

At 19, he was accepted into medical school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was at the university that he met someone who became
both a good friend and an important mentor: the poet Ezra Pound.2

At age 22, Williams received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduating, his internship was in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.3

While in New York, Williams published
his first book of poetry, titled
Poems (1909).

At 25, he moved back to Europe to study for an advanced degree in pediatrics in Leipzig, Germany.2

His friend and mentor Ezra Pound helped Williams get his
second book of poetry, The Tempers
published in both America and England.

It was now the mid-1910s,
William Carlos Williams was just finishing up 20 years of education and training.
He was now a certified doctor.
He was also a published poet.

Many of his fellow poets were joining a literary American-expat community in London:

Ezra Pound moved to London in 1908;
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) in 1911;
and T. S. Eliot in 1914. (Eliot even became a British citizen.)

Dr. Williams, pediatrician

William Carlos Williams chose something different.

By this point, he had spent time in Geneva, Paris, Leipzig, Philadelphia, and New York City.

And after living all those places, rich and poor, Williams opted to move back home.
To stay.


William Carlos Williams returned to his hometown of Rutherford, NJ
and began work as a pediatrician.
He continued to write, typing phrases of poems between patients—
or scribbling a line or two on an empty prescription pad.

Over the next 40 years in Rutherford, Williams published over 40 books…
And he delivered more than 2000 babies.3

William Carlos Williams
won the National Book Award

It has fluttered before me for a moment, a phrase
which I quickly write down on anything at hand,
any piece of paper I can grab.

– William Carlos Williams

There is no optimistic blindness in Williams,
though there is a fresh gaiety,
a stubborn or invincible joyousness.

– Randall Jarrell 3

Happy 137th Birthday
*** William Carlos Williams

– born September 17, 1883
in Rutherford, New Jersey


Linger Awhile:

I’ve been thinking this week about how every writer puzzles
over how to create characters that are vivid and memorable.
Here’s one example of how Williams’ solved this puzzle—
using just 28 words:

This is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

To help me illustrate
how much character this poem creates for us,
I’ve concocted a short quiz.

But first let me just say,
I believe poems are about impressions.

As you think about the following 5 questions,
base your answers on
your impressions, your feelings, and the
pictures created in your mind as you read this poem.
And have fun!
(Really! It’s short! And multiple choice!)

If you can, grab a scrap of paper
then write the letter that corresponds to each answer like this:

(And feel free to re-read the poem as many times as you like!)

* * * A Plum-Good Quiz * * *
(about the poem This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams)

How many characters are in this poem?

t. One person.
v. Two people.
w. Dozens of people.
x. Thousands of fruit bats.
y. No people or bats. Just plums.

This poem uses the words ‘I’ and ‘you.’
Who is ‘you’ in relation to ‘I’?

g. An old friend.
h. A new neighbor.
i. A long-suffering spouse.
j. A mysterious stranger.
k. No one. (The ‘I’ tends to talk to themself.)

This poem sounds like it was…

r. A love letter.
s. An email.
t. Spoken outloud.
u. Shouted over a fence.
v. A note left on the kitchen table.

This poem seems to be set during…

g. The 1700s.
h. The 21st century.
i. The early 20th century.
j. The 5th century B.C.
k. Could be any era.

The ‘you’ in this poem is probably someone who is…

a. Efficient and well-organized.
b. A foodie.
c. Feeling annoyed…
e. But not really surprised.
d. All of the above!


“Half Cup More”

William Carlos Williams, a 20th century American poet, was fascinated by
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, a 16th century Flemish painter.

Williams wrote an entire series of poems based on paintings by Brueghel.4

Here are two of those poems
and the paintings that inspired them:

detail of The Harvesters (1565)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC 1

the painting is organized
about a young

reaper enjoying his
noonday rest

from his morning labors

in fact sleeping
on his back

the women
have brought him his lunch

a spot of wine
they gather gossiping
under a tree

whose shade
he does not share the

center of
their workaday world

The Corn Harvest
by William Carlos Williams

In Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles

tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about

the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess.

The Dance
William Carlos Williams

The Wedding Dance (1566)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Detroit Institute of Arts 5


Take-Away Box

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

notes & footnotes

This painting is the collection of
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It was last on display between September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999;
it was no. 102 in a special exhibition called
“From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

It’s a large painting, measuring 45-7/8 x 62-7/8 inches—
around 4 x 5 feet.
I showed a couple of details of it above.
Here is the full work…

“In this work, the viewer is transported to a hot summer day
in the Netherlands. It belongs to a series,
commissioned by the Antwerp merchant Niclaes Jongelinck for his suburban home.
The cycle originally included six paintings showing the times of the year.
Apart from The Harvesters, which is usually identified as
representing July–August,
four other paintings of the group have survived
(now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,
and Lobkowicz Collection, Prague).

Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of Western art.
The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed
in favor of a new humanism,
and the unidealized description of the local scene
is based on natural observations.”

– Maryan Ainsworth, curator
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City

I learned about Williams’ schooling from the Academy of American Poets
“Founded in 1934 to support American poets at all stages of their careers
and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry.”

Both Randall Jarrell and WH Auden are quoted
in an article about William Carlos Williams written by the
Poetry Foundation

Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962)
by William Carlos Williams
This was his last book. He died in March 1963.
Later that year, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry posthumously.

The title of the book
is from the opening cycle of ten poems,
each based on a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder,
a Flemish painter (~1527-1569), who was
famous for pictures of peasant life.

If anyone knows whether
in his poem ‘The Dance’ William Carlos Williams got the
title of the painting wrong
(and called Brueghel’s painting The Kermess, instead of its real title, The Wedding Dance)
or whether I’ve cited the wrong painting,
please let me know.


Please note:
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

1 thought on “Doctor Poet”

  1. How fun Kelly. I loved taking the quiz and coming up with the answer ‘vivid.’
    I have always liked Williams’ poem The Red Wheelbarrow. “so much depends on a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water” I always thought it was against a white barn. Now I learn it’s white chickens.

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