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By William Carlos Williams

The pure products of America

go crazy—

mountain folk from Kentucky


or the ribbed north end of

Jersey

with its isolate lakes and


valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves

old names

and promiscuity between


devil-may-care men who have taken

to railroading

out of sheer lust of adventure—


and young slatterns, bathed

in filth

from Monday to Saturday


to be tricked out that night

with gauds

from imaginations which have no


peasant traditions to give them

character

but flutter and flaunt


sheer rags—succumbing without

emotion

save numbed terror


under some hedge of choke-cherry

or viburnum—

which they cannot express—


Unless it be that marriage

perhaps

with a dash of Indian blood


will throw up a girl so desolate

so hemmed round

with disease or murder


that she’ll be rescued by an

agent—

reared by the state and


sent out at fifteen to work in

some hard-pressed

house in the suburbs—


some doctor’s family, some Elsie—

voluptuous water

expressing with broken


brain the truth about us—

her great

ungainly hips and flopping breasts


addressed to cheap

jewelry

and rich young men with fine eyes


as if the earth under our feet

were

an excrement of some sky


and we degraded prisoners

destined

to hunger until we eat filth


while the imagination strains

after deer

going by fields of goldenrod in


the stifling heat of September

Somehow

it seems to destroy us


It is only in isolate flecks that

something

is given off


No one

to witness

and adjust, no one to drive the car


William Carlos Williams, “To Elsie” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939, edited by Christopher MacGowan. Copyright 1938, 1944, 1945 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems: Volume I 1909-1939 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1945)

  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

William Carlos Williams
Born in Rutherford, William Carlos Williams spent almost his entire life in his native New Jersey. He was a medical doctor, poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. With Ezra Pound and H.D., Williams was a leading poet of the Imagist movement and often wrote of American subjects and themes. Though his career was initially overshadowed by other poets, he became an inspiration to the Beat generation in the 1950s and 60s. See More By This Poet

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