Williams, William Carlos
Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, the son of an English father and a Puerto Rican mother, he attended Swiss and French schools before studying medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound. After further medical study in New York and Leipzig, and a visit to London where he met Yeats, Williams settled down to practise medicine in Rutherford in 1909.
His poetry, recognized as one of the most original and influential achievements of the 20th century, is in fact deceptively simple. As critics have often noted, no object or occasion was ‘unpoetic’ to Williams. ‘No ideas but in things,’ he declared, finding his subjects in such homely items as refrigerated plums and wheelbarrows. His early work shows the influence of imagism in its objective, precise manner of description; his later poems, however, went beyond the interests of that movement, and became more personal. They also display his metrical invention, the ‘variable foot’, which he felt approximated to colloquial American speech more closely than did traditional metres.
His first book, Poems, was privately printed in 1900. It was followed by The Tempers (1913), Al Que Quiere! (1917), Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920), Sour Grapes (1921) and Spring and All (1923). Numerous other volumes followed. Among his last books were The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954), Journey to Love (1955) and Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1963. Between 1946 and 1958 he published five books of the epic-length poem, Paterson, the work for which he is best known. Set in Paterson, New Jersey, the poem deals with the history and people of the town from its origins to modern times. Fragments of a sixth book were published posthumously in 1963. A posthumously edited two-volume Collected Poems appeared in 1986-8.
Williams also published a number of prose works, both fiction and non-fiction, beginning with two collections of essays: The Great American Novel (1923) and In the American Grain (1925). Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams appeared in 1954. His short stories were collected in The Farmer's Daughter: The Collected Stories (1961); earlier volumes include The Knife of the Times (1932), Life along the Passaic River (1938) and Make Light of It: Collected Stories (1950). His novels are A Voyage to Pagany (1928), White Mule (1937), In the Money (1940) and The Build-Up (1952). The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams was published in 1951; a collection of plays, Many Lives and Other Plays, appeared in 1961.
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