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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


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


but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags—succumbing without


save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry

or viburnum—

which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage


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


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


and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet


an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners


to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains

after deer

going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September


it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that


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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