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William Carlos Williams' "The Uses of Poetry"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

Introduction and Text of "The Uses of Poetry"

Even though the title remains deceptive in that it sounds like an essay title, Williams' "The Uses of Poetry" is a well-crafted Petrarchan sonnet, with the rime scheme ABBA ABCA DED EDE. The poem sections the octave and sestet into two stanzas each, which give the sonnet an innovative flavor. This sonnet follows Williams' famous directive for poetry, as it communicates its "ideas" through "things." The things of nature supply the verse with colorful, eventful, and pleasant murmurings as the speaker leads the reader to a place which sense-awareness cannot become obtrusive.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Uses of Poetry

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.

Reading of "The Uses of Poetry"

Commentary

The speaker in this innovative, Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet is dramatizing the transformative power of poetry.

First Quatrain of Octave: Anticipation of Reading

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

The speaker of "The Uses of Poetry" begins by telling his listener that he is looking forward to reading poetry to a lady. The speaker "anticipates" that on the day he intends to read to the lady that day will be filled with "pure diversion"— nothing serious or troubling is expected to happen that day. It will be day filled with wine and roses, that is, pure romance. As he reads his "poesy" to the lady, they will be boat riding on a lake, and they will "glide by many a leafy bay"—immersed in nature, where the trees are full of leaves that inspire by the purified romance of the poetry.

Second Quatrain of Octave: Hiding in Sweet Murmurs

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

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As the speaker continues to dramatize his description, he asserts that they will be "hid deep in rushes." Their boat will float to a part of the river where the water weeds will hide them as they enjoy the sweet murmurs of the poetry. They will delight at the "glossy black winged May-flies" and the "hush-throated nestlings" that they will rouse with the boat's movements through the water. The birds and flies will fly away, not molesting the poetry drenched couple but merely charming them with their natural scurry.

First Tercet: Moving to the Mental Plane

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

Moving to the sestet of the Italian sonnet, the speaker then turns from description of the physical setting of the boat ride to the mental place where all poetry should lead. The speaker avers that they will not be bothered by the actual physical "woes" that a real boat ride would bring about. Those gnats in reality would not be charming nor delightful. Frightening birds until they fly away could result in rather unpleasant events, as could other difficulties that might occur: any number of problems might "spring / To rural peace from our meek onward trend." In order to guard against such calamities, they will simply withdraw from ordinary sense-awareness, and instead engage in mental-awareness, which is far superior.

Second Tercet: Obliterating Annoyances

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.

The speaker and his companion will "close the door of sense" and climb on "poesy's transforming giant wing, / To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend." The speaker suggests that unlike the aggravations of the natural world, the world of poetry brings satisfactions "whose fruits all anguish mend." The annoyances of the natural world are obliterated by the superior transforming power of the poetry world.

Use of Sources and Purpose of Commentaries

In place of an official "disclaimer," I am offering this elucidation regarding the employment of source material and the purpose for composing commentaries on poems.

I am a specialist in literary studies. I think my education (PhD, Ball State University, 1987 in British, American and World Literature), experience (writing on literary subjects for over forty years), and publications (4 collections of original poems and a collection of commentaries) afford my writings a certain level of credibility in making remarks on poetry.

Sources

  • No outside sources were used in the study of and commentary on Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night."

Purpose

In my commentaries on poems, I focus solely on the issues that have most strongly caught my attention; thus, my commentaries feature mostly my responses and reactions to the text.

Politically themed poems or poems that address historical or social issues sometimes require resources to further inform or to support my stance. In those instances, I offer a complete list of sources consulted to support my claims.

The main purpose of my commentaries is to assist others, especially students and beginning readers of poetry, in assessing meaning in each poem. They are offered as a staring point and not a final exhaustive analysis or explication.

Brief Bio of William Carlos Williams

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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