Il mercato della frutta_Me and Elsie

“To Elsie”

or “The pure products of America”

> Listen to the poem read by the author


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

From “Spring and All” (1923)

William Carlos Williams

Critics about the poem (from Modern American Poetry)

Thomas R. Whitaker

“To Elsie” focuses three of Williams’ main concerns: a despoiled America, the alienated and self-alienating human condition, and the ravished Eden of the imagination.

The considerable power of this poem resides neither in the summary image of Elsie herself, which occupies so few lines, nor in any texture of precise particulars. The diction is often general and seemingly flaccid: “devil-may-care men who have taken / to railroading / out of sheer lust of adventure,” or “young slatterns, bathed / in filth.” As a dramatic monologue, however, the poem surmounts such language. Its major focus is the speaker himself, who sums up–in swift, passionate, and broken utterance –the human condition in which he participates. The well-worn

counters give the speed and immediacy of actual speech; but, through the careful disposition of those words, Williams presents the speaker’s fresh awareness. . . .

Here a fresh juxtaposition of cliches (“pure products . . . go crazy”) leads into precise, natural description that is symbolically resonant (“ribbed north end” and “Isolate lakes”), and on into parallelism that pulls together seemingly disparate elements in the syndrome of degradation (“lakes and / valleys, . . . deafmutes, thieves / old names / and promiscuity”). And later the emptiness of

succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

is sharpened by a sudden movement into more specific (and suggestive) naming, the two sequences bound together by sound-pattern:

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

However, this texture could not sustain a mounting intensity for 66 lines without the poem’s major syntactical and prosodic devices. Syntactically, most of the poem is one long sequence of progressive subordination–a sequence that is not anticlimactic because it renders the proliferation of the speaker’s thought. He does not set forth a position; instead, be discovers and seeks to express the increasingly immediate and stifling implications of his first brief intuition. Hence the poem’s forward thrust; and hence the fact that every phrase comes as a present apprehension. . . .

But that flow of commonplace diction and progressive subordination plays against a quite regular prosodic structure. By means of the long-short-long triplets (a more rigorous scheme than the later triadic line), with each line a unit of attention, Williams renders the varying pace of the concerned mind, as it feels its way among the data of experience, rushes on, revises, pauses to give a phrase deliberate weight or ironic point, searches again, shifts the angle of vision, or suddenly hits upon a new meaning.

After that sustained and intense sequence of subordination, the following brief assertions (with unexpected shorter lines and a final sentence fragment) carry unusual weight. . . .

The vague phrases render the speaker’s own straining to perceive and articulate. He too “cannot express.” But “isolate flecks”–with its reminders of “isolate lakes,” “desolate,” “voluptuous water / expressing,” and the distant image of deer–transcends that inarticulateness. And so does the final colloquial metaphor. The imagination in this poem does not merely strain after deer; it confronts our chronic and devastating blindness and inflexibility.

From William Carlos Williams. Copyright 1968 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.

James E. Breslin

Williams found himself in a culture devoted to success via purposive action; and it is toward the devastating consequences of that idealization of ascendancy that he turns in the well-known “To Elsie.” A pure product of America, one of the famous Jackson Whites of northern New Jersey, Williams’s hulking half-mad maid Elsie expresses with her “broken / brain the truth about us.” Addressing herself “to cheap / jewelry / and rich young men with fine eyes,” she embodies the national desire for quick, easy wealth. The myth of success, with which Williams had been imbued in his youth, has now become part of his mature demonology. For Elsie expresses the truth about a culture in which aspirations are not fed by an organic relation to the physical environment. As Williams argues, most Americans, like the original settlers of the continent, believe that this world is a dunghill.

Our dreams of heavenly tranquility, our straining after a paradise above, separate us from the real sources of life under our bootsoles; the result is dehumanization. At the end of “To Elsie,” Williams delineates his culture with the image of a driverless car.

The pure products of America have gone crazy: abstracted, swift-moving, brutal. The driverless car is another modern version of Pluto, god of avarice and rape, the mythic embodiment of man’s dream of dominion. It is from this narcissistic dream that Williams’s poems attempt to jolt us awake.

From William Carlos Williams: An American Artist. Copyright 1970 by James E. Brolin.

Bram Dijkstra

“To Elsie,” Williams’ poem about America, reflects the concepts about the nature of life in this country which Hartley, Frank, and Rosenfeld had expounded in their essays, and which Williams was to reiterate in In the American Grain: The reason why “the pure products of America,” such as Elsie Borden, “go crazy,” is because they are rootless. They have “imaginations which have no / peasant traditions to give them / character.” Consequently they have no emotion

save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

Williams here left the reference of “which” deliberately ambiguous, so that it becomes clear that not only the numbed terror is inexpressible to them but also the hedge of choke-cherry and the viburnum. They are incapable of seeing, of understanding nature, the organic object. Girls like Elsie, who have a slight, instinctive longing for contact, for an understanding of the objective world, because they were born “perhaps / with a dash of Indian blood,” will go insane due to their inability to establish this contact, due to the desolation, disease, and murder with which they are hemmed round. But such an Elsie can, “with broken brain,” express the truth about us, showing us how we behave

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky . . .

These are the things which destroy the American. Until he can force his imagination to take account of, rejoice in, the pure, immediate reality of the earth under his feet, and so establish his contact with his own, local, consciousness, instead of letting himself strain after the otherwhere of “deer / going by fields of goldenrod,” until such a time, the American is doomed to go crazy. In the meantime,

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

The poem is primarily a diagnosis; its solution is implied. But there are the isolate flecks of understanding which intimate some hope for the future, if only someone can be found to “drive the car.” Doubtless Williams considered his poetry a record of the “isolate flecks” and one of the means by which America could be driven to understanding, just as the photographs of Stieglitz and the work of his painters fulfilled that function in their own media.

Clearly Williams by this time had been infected with the photographer’s sense of mission and firm belief in the possibility of a new and independently “local” America.

From Cubism, Stieglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1969 by Princeton UP.

Richard R. Frye

Williams was certain his friends and neighbors (and in particular the mentally handicapped young nursemaid, Elsie, who came over from time to time to help Flossie clean house) were out of contact with the “American place,” and the image that came into his mind was that of a driverless automobile careening out of control. The doctor’s well-known directive, from poem XVII, is to steer clear of empty material aspirations and establish roots in “the earth under our feet”:

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

Williams’ grouse “to” Elsie, among those Zukofsky selected for the elder poet’s Collected Poems: 1921-31 (1934), prescribes this remedial “grounding” act as an alternative to self-destruction.

from “Seeing the Signs: Objectivist Premonitions in Williams’ Spring and All.” Sagetrieb 8.3

Roger Gilbert

William Carlos William’s great poem “To Elsie,” . . . begins with the famous declaration “The pure products of America / go crazy—” and then immediately starts offering examples of the “products” in question: “mountain folk from Kentucky /or the ribbed north end of / Jersey. . . .” These phrases are wholly generic in their reference, of course, and the poem continues at this level for several stanzas,. speaking of “devil-may-care men” and “young slatterns” without fully individuating them. When Williams finally turns to the particular he does so with a gesture that looks like a qualification of his initial statement:

[Gilbert quotes lines 28-51]

Much of the pathos in this extraordinary passage has to do, I think, with the way Williams stations Elsie just on the border between the particular and the generic. Robert Pinsky has called attention to the insistent use of the word “some” in this poem, a word that, as I hope to show, has a profound significance for American poetry as a whole. Here it serves to locate Elsie, an utterly particular human being, within the societal and discursive contexts that “produce” her. “Some hard-pressed house,” “some doctor’s family” are conventional phrases that simply point to a specific member of a class; “some Elsie” is devastating, because it identifies individual and class in a way that leaves no room for the saving difference of selfhood. And indeed Williams’ portrait brutally physicalizes Elsie, reducing her to a mute symptom of cultural degradation, “expressing” only by her brokenness what has been done to her. We may well conclude that Williams himself does as much to rob Elsie of selfhood as her culture; it is after all his language that transforms her to “voluptuous water” and that dwells on the tawdriness of her desires. Yet it is also Williams, like the state, who has plucked Elsie out of her original context, who has made her an example, a special case, part anomaly and part specimen.

Much hinges on the “Unless” that opens the passage: what does it imply? That Elsie somehow escapes or transcends the misery and the madness that beset the more generic “products” of America, those nameless deaf-mutes, thieves, and slatterns? Does the naming of Elsie itself constitute an act of rescue or merely one of humiliation and display? The poem’s subtlety forbids clear-cut answers to any of these questions. What we can say is that the grammar of exemplification in this poem beautifully reproduces the tension between the irreducible singularity of a human being, an Elsie, and the way social and cultural systems can turn such a human being into a generic product, like the car in the poem’s closing lines: “No one to witness and adjust, / no one to drive the car.” The poem’s language frames Elsie as both an exception to and an example of that law that “the pure products of America go crazy,” and this grammatical ambiguity is what accounts for her nearly tragic stature. For Williams, exemplification becomes a discursive version of the dehumanizing social forces that turn people into types: hence the poet’s refusal to make Elsie just an example, his insistent granting of special powers and qualities to her, can be taken as an effort to “rescue” her from those forces, to give her a life of her own. This effort may be no more successful than that of the state agency, but at least it reminds us of the extent to which language itself always participates in the making and unmaking of selves.

from “Some Parts of a World: Example as Trope in American Poetry.” WHR (Summer 1994).

Linda A. Kinnahan

. . . A poem that takes as its subject the very dynamics of representation it enacts, it turns essentialized conventions of the feminine inside out by situating them within material frameworks of power involving sex, race, and class. A poem also about the imagination, it ties a cultural diminishment of imaginative potential to the workings of masculine systems of control and desire marking the female body. The poem’s first nine stanzas describe the “pure products” of America, the “peasant” class of workers and “mountain folk” who live “desolate” lives because their imaginations have been severed from “peasant traditions to give them / character.” Escape from deprived conditions occurs through gender-specific means; the men can take to “railroading / out of sheer lust of adventure,” their mobility assured by their sex, their “lust” assuring their mobility. The women may only escape through the stasis of sexual surrender, and the “young slatterns,” in “succumbing / without emotion” to the conventions of male desire, face their submission through “numb terror / . . . which they cannot express. ” The women are defined (as sluts) and silenced through the operations of male desire, or more precisely, when the mechanisms of male desire are enabled , through the severance of the “imagination, ” through the rigidification of habits of thought rooted in male supremacy.

Elsie embodies both the result of this system and the potential to disrupt or break it. Recalling the feminized cross-culturization of Jacataqua as well as the old Carib woman who resists Ponce de Leon, Elsie is a product of a “marriage / perhaps / with a dash of Indian blood.” Yet she is also “hemmed round,” closed in by the conditions the poem has described in terms of gender and class. Her movement to better circumstances, financially speaking, retains much of the old, for as a young woman she remains “hemmed round” by the male-identified institutions that continue to define her: the agent who rescues her, the state who rears her, the suburban doctor who employs her—the “us” about whom Elsie’s “broken / brain” expresses the “truth.” Against these sanctuaries of public authority, this “us,” the poem suddenly insists upon Elsie’s body, the “voluptuous water,” the hips and breasts; moreover, in a significant doubling back upon itself, the poem goes on to alert us to the process of reading the female body within the contexts of masculine power that the poem both describes and joins. The poem begins to deconstruct itself, its own representation and objectification of the female body linked to the hierarchies of state, class, and gender that “read” and “re-present” women in our culture:

. . . 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
(218)

The hips and breasts, “addressed” like a written text to the male gaze or the “fine eyes” of men, also undergo the objectifying gaze of the poet who here defines the female body according to cultural standards of beauty, male systems of desire. But even as we are told that her hips are “ungainly” and her breasts “flopping,” the poem confronts us with the mechanism underlying definitions of the feminine, metonymically signified by the “fine eyes” of rich men. The devil-may-care men, the agent, the state, the doctor, the poet all join in creating this bodily text of “woman.” The repressed, oppressed body, however, is a site for exposing this process, the “truth about us” that is revealed in how we “read” our culturally sanctioned texts of convention and meaning; the textualization of the female body, performed by the fine eyes of men and the representational gestures of the poem, is underscored by hierarchies of gender, class, and race that shape a reading of the female body and, furthermore, is self-consciously linked to a lack of imagination—a lack that “seems to destroy us.” The objectification and suppression of the female body is contextualized within a denigration of earth and nature, a binarism necessary to perpetuate such hierarchy. Elsie’s body is submitted to the male gaze

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
(218-19)

The “imagination ” here is not liberating for it is not transformational; it is the imagination without peasant character, the imagination of the “plagiarists” earlier criticized in Spring and All. This imagination labors and strains after desired but absent forms of beauty rather than generating itself through contact with the material world; it reads itself through convention and habit of thought, the “stifling heat of September,” longing for a pastoral or illusory vision of the world—deer in fields of golden rod. This seems a pretty poetic image precisely because we are taught that such subjects and images are “poetic.” Here, the poetic privileging of tradition (suggested by the pastoral vision) is part of what denigrates Elsie and what seems “to destroy us.”

Thus, in contrast with the young women who “cannot express” the sexual terror engendered by male authority, Elsie expresses “with broken / brain the truth about us.” More precisely, the speaker’s recognition of linked systems of power that inscribe, represent, and “hem round” the female body unfolds in the act of his own participation, through his inscription and representation of Elsie. The poem problematizes the act of representation and its place and power within a (masculinely authored) poetic tradition yearning after deer in goldenrod; or within a middle-class suburb where the exotic and voluptuous racially mixed woman represents an objectified sexuality of otherness to the “rich young men with fine eyes.” The poem identifies itself as a “hemming round” of the female Elsie while seeking the “broken” expression she embodies and that conventions exclude. The final lines of the poem recall this expression, a brokenness that reveals “isolate flecks”:

It is only in isolate flecks that something
is given off
No one to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car
(219)

This final stanza revises, in a sense, the earlier poem “The Young Housewife,” which associates the car’s power with a poetic mastery that destroys (through erecting metaphoric boundaries) the poem’s subject (see Chapter 1). The car image in “To Elsie” recalls the railroading men of the first stanzas and stands as an emblem of male power and mobility, enabled in part by female submission and terrified silence. Here, though, there is no adjustment, no control of the car’s movement; significantly, it is not that there is “no one to witness,” but that there is no one to witness and adjust when the “driver” opens to the imagination’s broken, isolate flecks. The labor of this process, a painful relinquishment of authority on various levels of language, culture, and epistemological habit, is a movement in and out of the “filth” that one discourse perceives and the deer that the plagiarizing imagination desires: “Somehow I it seems to destroy us.” The poem itself moves in and out—Williams witnessing and adjusting, while realizing the “broken” truth and the “isolate flecks” such adjustment (or the habit of thought encouraging this adjustment) diminishes. Elsie is both diminished (by one reading of Williams’s description of her) and stands free from diminishment through the deconstructive act the poem suggests, leaving us to strain after the isolate flecks, the traces, the feminine betweenness that the dominant text (“the rich young men with fine eyes”; Williams himself) overwrites. The poem is painful in its desolation over the loss of authority to “drive the car,” yet by these final lines it has held this desire up for self-implicating inspection.

from Poetics of the Feminine: Authority and Literary Tradition in William Carlos williams, Mina Loy, Denise Levertov, and Kathleen Fraser. Copyright © 1994 by Cambridge UP.

John Lowney

The most famous poem in Spring and All that presents the automobile as a figure of modern American mobility is “To Elsie.” In this case, the automobile has no driver, and mobility is portrayed as mindless, aimless nomadism. “To Elsie” dramatically thematizes the trope of articulation to fuse Williams’s revisionary poetics of descent with his avant-garde poetics of dissent. More than any Williams poem other than Paterson, “To Elsie” has drawn praise as a formally complex act of social criticism. Louis Zukofsky singled out “To Elsie” in his overview of 1920s American poetry, asserting that it brilliantly demonstrates the “social determinism of American suburbs in the first thirty years of the twentieth century.” “To Elsie” exemplifies for Zukofsky that “history is in these pages and in the poems—history defined as the facts about us, their chronological enlivening for the present set down as art as so good for the next age and the next.” More recently, the cultural anthropologist James Clifford has read “To Elsie” as an exemplary text of” ethnographic modernity.” Williams’s standpoint of participant observation in “To Elsie” is ethnographic in that he “finds himself off center among scattered traditions,” while modernity is encountered through the poem’s complex evocation of lost authenticity. Unlike the patients who are presented with medical-aesthetic distance in other Williams poems, the emblematic figure of “Elsie” is a “troubling-insider” within the doctor-poet’s bourgeois domestic space. As Clifford argues, “Elsie” embodies not just a figure of modernity but a “plurality of emergent subjects” whose representation resists any facile symbolic interpretation. Elsie embodies the interpretive problem of the poem: unable to articulate any notion of “contact” with her locale, the poem “strains” to articulate the signs of her inarticulateness. David Frail argues that “To Elsie” successfully diagnoses the failure of modern American culture by demonstrating the gap between social reality and the terms by which the “poet of contact” criticizes it. In other words, the poem succeeds through its recognition of Williams’s failure as a poet to restore the promise of American culture. I agree that “To Elsie” acknowledges this problematic gap between the pathology of modernity and the poet’s prescription of contact, but the act of articulating this gap itself contradicts the poem’s bleak conclusion.

Like “Spring and All,” “To Elsie” depicts northern New Jersey as a desolate wasteland of the “pure products of America,” with 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.

(CP 1, 217)

From its oxymoronic opening of purity produced through this catalog of aimless and inbred grotesques, “To Elsie” vitriolically indicts a commercialist American culture that substitutes “gauds” for the local gods of “peasant traditions.” The possibility for a poetics of “contact” to counteract such a desperate condition of rootlessness does indeed seem to be a delusion. The inarticulateness that results from the lack of any meaningful connection to place is personified in “some Elsie,” whose name itself suggests both alienation from the place she inhabits and otherness from the poet’s perspective. The “broken / brain” with which she expresses “the truth about us” is suggested by the poem’s syntax of one long sequence of progressive subordination, each phrase stated as a present apprehension, “broken” into short lines that frequently stop, unpredictably, to interrupt clauses, creating an effect of reckless speed combined with wandering, incomplete thoughts.

However, if “To Elsie” replicates the psychological effects of the social conditions it critiques, its articulation of its subject’s inarticulateness suggests that poetry’s close attention to language, whether on the level of the utterance or of the word, still serves the vital social function of producing knowledge. The diction of “To Elsie” is vaguer than in Williams’s more descriptive poems. The description of the “pure products of America” is characterized by clichéd social types who appear to be “pure” because of their ideologically produced naturalness. Elsie, despite the oblique description of her as “voluptuous water / expressing with broken / brain the truth about us” (CP 1, 218), is largely an amalgam of sociological and physiological cliches. However, such vague colloquial diction is not consistent throughout the poem. Most notably, the description of plants is remarkably precise, as exemplified in the Saturday night scenario of the “young slatterns” succumbing without

emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—.

(CP 1, 217)

The specificity of” choke-cherry / or viburnum” is accentuated by the vagueness of “some hedge.” Furthermore, this inability to express, to name, is dramatized by the very selection of trees under which they “succumb.” The “choke-cherry” is a North American wild cherry tree with astringent fruit, hence its name, while the “viburnum” is a member of the honeysuckle family whose Latin meaning is “wayfaring tree.” The names of the trees thus figure both the “numbed terror . . . which they cannot express” and the nomadism of the “devil-may-care men.” The only other plant named in “To Elsie” similarly suggests the psychological, even physiological, effects of the inability to express:

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.

(CP 1, 218-19)

“Goldenrod” is commonly confused with ragweed as an allergenic plant. Such common ignorance would surely discourage the “imagination” from pursuing “deer / going by fields of goldenrod.” This ignorance is the result not so much of the inability to articulate a sense of “contact” with the local, but rather of the inability, or refusal, to reflect on the linguistic “grounds” for articulating such contact.

“To Elsie” foregrounds the significance of language not just in the “isolate flecks . . . given off” by its precise naming of plants but in its mixture of discourses that initiates reflection on the social roots and effects of clichéd terms and phrases. The poem certainly demonstrates and defends the poet’s social function of naming. The phrase “the imagination strains” itself suggests a physical act of hunting, “strain” being derived from the Latin stringere, to “draw tight,” as a bow, which “gives off” the “isolate flecks,” evoking the French for “arrow,” fleche. However, to “strain after” such a self-reflexive meaning is not the “point” of “To Elsie.” Like its syntax, its patterns of sound accentuate the significance of close attention to everyday language, whether through alliteration or through the repetition of larger semantic units like “isolate . . . desolate . . . isolate.” The “isolate flecks” of precise description not only reveal the poet’s ability to name: they highlight the reader’s responsibility for interpreting and transforming the quotidian terms which evoke our inability to articulate social relations. The poem’s final stanza expresses the despair of modernity in the figure of a driverless car, but “no one / to witness / and adjust” can also be read against the colloquial grain as “no one / to witness / and adjust.” If the poet relinquishes the role of the “one” who drives the car, “To Elsie” acknowledges its readers’ productive role “to witness / and adjust,” to not only “witness the words being born” but to adjust the terms by which such words are conventionally understood.

from The American Avant-Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Associated University Presses.

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

from Spring and all (1923) William Carlos Williams
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