Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems: Collected Poems 1950-1962 by William Carlos Williams (New York: New Directions, 1962. 184 pp)

Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While his primary occupation was a family doctor, William Carlos Williams had a successful secondary career as a poet. Williams won the first National Book Award for Poetry and was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He died in 1963.

All that Jazz

Even though I’ve critically consumed copious amounts of music over the years, I don’t know what to do with Jazz. The very thing I enjoy about critical reflection surrounds the narrative and structure of any given piece.

Jazz, by definition, represents the very opposite of this position. It emotes moods through a lack of structure. Its improvisational core creates a new form every time the beat begins. Instead of crafting something enduring and reasoned, jazz captures a moment. For these reasons, Jazz orbits my understanding from a great distance. I can enjoy it, but I don’t know what to do with it.

Poetry in many ways reflects Jazz. The emotive moments it suggests, no matter how meticulously crafted provide difficulty for this novice critic. Because I can’t understand its structure in the most technical details, my reflections sit with the emotion of the moment.

Pictures

William Carlos Williams collection of poems, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems captures the lyrical moments later in his life. The first portion of the collection posits poems influenced by the famous Dutch painter.

“According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the cost
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning” (4).

With masterful language, Williams brings paintings to life.

And Other Things

Outside of these poems, Williams offers a handful of poems from later in his life to complete the collection. My favorite moments in this section suggest those fourth-wall breaking meta concepts, like this moment:

“Your English
is not specific enough
As a writer of poems
you show yourself to be inept not to say
usurious” (66).

But when push comes to shove, I can’t say I know how to approach Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems. I know from critical acclaim that I am reading a master of modern poetry, but like Jazz, I don’t have a filter by which I can give this collection an honest appraisal.

I feel cultured from reading Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, but it’s hard to provide much further reflection.

Verdict: ? out of 5

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