Poet 5: Return to William Carlos Williams

This these lines from Book III of "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower" is so profound:

"It is ridiculous

what airs we put on

to seem profound

while our hearts

gasp-dying

for want of love.

Having your love

I was rich.

Thinking to have lost it

I am tortured

and cannot rest.

I do not come to you

abjectly

with confessions of my faults,

I have confessed,

all of them.

In the name of love

I come proudly

as to an equal

to be forgiven.

Let me, for I know

you take it hard,

with good reason,

give the steps

if it may be

by which you shall mount,

again to think well

of me."


(NOTE: It is more powerful with his intended format. So you can see it in Google Books HERE)

I found this background to this particular part of the poem at http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/asphodel.html:

"First published in Journey to Love (1955), "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" came into existence during a time of nearly overwhelming crisis in Williams' life. Originally he thought of it as the fifth book of Paterson, gave it the working title "The River of Heaven," and planned for it to include "Everything left over that wasn't done or said--at ease." He began the poem in March 1952, on a hotel menu in New York City, and worked on it for nearly two years. During those years his health, which had begun to break with his heart attack in 1948 and strokes in 1949 and 1951, continued to deteriorate. He suffered another major stroke in August 1952, and knew that he could expect further strokes--any one of them possibly fatal--at any time from then on. His mental condition was likewise precarious. A bout with depression was exacerbated both by the recent stroke and by the injustices surrounding Williams' appointment as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress. The position was first offered, then withdrawn owing to allegations of Communist sympathizing, then offered again contingent upon further loyalty investigations, which were conducted but never evaluated, so that the year's term was up before Williams was able to serve. The situation tormented him with feelings of rage, powerlessness, and humiliation. On 21 February 1953, he was admitted to a private mental hospital in Queens, where he underwent psychiatric treatment until his release on 18 April.

Most painful of all, the old uneasy balance between confession and deceit in Williams' marriage to Flossie finally gave way. During his stay in the mental hospital, threatened by death and ready at last to let Flossie truly know him, he worked on poems, including "Asphodel," and wrote letters confessing past adulteries that finally compelled Flossie's full belief. The process must have been immeasurably painful for them both. Needing his wife to hold firm now more than ever, the poet must test her by buffeting and shaking her. "Having your love / I was rich," he tells her in "Asphodel." "Thinking to have lost it / I am tortured / and cannot rest." And so, in three "Books" and a "Coda," he writes to Flossie about the flower of the Elysian fields, the flower that grows also "in hell." The flower has a central meaning: "Of love, abiding love / it will be telling." In the first two Books he speaks of their marriage, their past, shared projects, triumphs, and griefs; in Book III he begs for forgiveness, but also writes movingly of desire, giving "the steps / if it may be / by which you shall mount, / again to think well / of me."

That is so deep!

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