Saturday, November 09, 2013

ModPo 2013 Assignment #2:Robbed: On Williams' "Young Woman at a Window"


Your job in this short essay is to look closely at the poems and to argue that interpretative position - that version 2 is "more imagist." You should do so by showing how version 2 follows the manifesto but you can also do so by showing how version 1 does not.


The second version of Williams' poem, "Young Woman at a Window," is more faithful to the Imagist Manifesto and I'll be discussing each point of the manifesto and how the second poem fulfills each point.

The first point talks about "using the language of common speech but to employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." Both poems are actually sparse already and both employ the language of common speech. However, the first poem uses words that are not "exact" because they are interpretive rather than descriptive. "This little child/ who robs her/ knows nothing/ of his theft" are conclusions that can only be made due to the interpretation of the speaker in the poem. Thus, these are not "exact words" but rather nearly-exact. Also, I noticed that "this little child" was further reduced to "child" removing anything superfluous. "Child" already suffices without needing to add "this" and "little."

The second point talks about the individuality of the poet being better expressed in free verse rather than conventional forms. While the first poem is in free verse, there is a playful juxtaposition of robs and rubs, two like-sounding words that begin with the same consonant and ends with the same consonant but have different meanings. One could call it a pun, two similar-sounding words used for intended humorous or rhetorical effect, thus employing a "conventional form."

The third point talks about "absolute freedom in choice of subject." Here, I cannot see how the second is more imagist than the first simply because they both have the same subject.

The fourth point talks about "presenting an image." There shouldn't be any "vague generalities" and the manifesto rejects the "cosmic poet" or one who deals with something inconceivably vast. One manifestation of this might be the omnipresent speaker. The speaker in the first poem identifies how the mother has been "robbed" by her child. This is strictly outside of the image and is an internalization, a judgment made by the speaker in the poem. Thus, it is less imagist than the second version of the poem where the speaker's judgment is not heard.

The fifth point talks about "hard and clear" poetry, one that isn't "blurred or indefinite." For me, this means: present the subject as it is not as how the speaker sees the subject. I see it as an attempt very similar to journalistic objectivity: don't color the facts. But as I brought up in the first and fourth point, there is a "blurred" and "indefinite" statement regarding a "robbing." One cannot be sure if the child has indeed robbed the young woman. It is subjective and, therefore, not hard and clear.

Lastly, the sixth point talks about "concentration" as the "very essence of poetry." By sheer word count alone, the second poem far outstrips the first, thus adhering more closely to the Imagist Manifesto.

Personally, I prefer the first version of the poem to the second, though. The imagist manifesto has the impossible task of presenting an uneditorialized picture of the subject, a hard, clear image. However, language itself has many gaps. An "exact" word, while ideal in the imagist manifesto, still leads to some interpretation. Exactness implies only one interpretation. While both poems draw the reader in, it is the first poem that interests Cid Corman's words in his poem "It isnt for want," it "detains" me. While I like the particularity of the imagist poem, I want a point for conversation. The word "robs" in the first poem starts that conversation for me. I could ask it of the imagist movement as well: Does the imagist movement rob poetry of the richness of polyvalence?

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