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Friday, 17 September 2010

William Carlos Williams: Solstice


Burchfield_East Wind_590x270

The Night Wind:
Charles Burchfield, 1918 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

The river is full
The time is ripe
Give murderous thoughts rest

No leaves on the trees
A mild sun darkens

the frosty earth

Quietness reigns
No birds, no wind
The shortest day of the year

is favorable

Burchfield_East Wind_590x270

The East Wind: Charles Burchfield
, 1918 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

William Carlos Williams: Solstice, from An Early Martyr and Other Poems, 1935


Anonymous said...

I've never seen these Burchfields and I'm unfamiliar with the Williams poem as well, but all three seem "meant" for each other, despite the nearly 20 years that separates them. Notwithstanding the parlous overhang of the Burchfields and the slightly sinister implication of the Williams, I find these really comforting and cosy tonight. I'm quite sure I'll be pulling this up when the Solstice arrives.

TC said...

Thank you for appreciating this one, Curtis. It felt a bit risky, given the seasonal reversal and that "parlous overhang", as you so aptly put it. But it's been that kind of period here -- darkness at noon, "parlous times" to retrieve a phrase from ancient history. When the rational mind hits a wall, what remains but intuition...

I picked up in the Williams poem a curious sense of someone whistling in the dark (the dark of the year, the dark of the world of those times). The early Burchfield transfiguration of the meaning of "home", the protection of interiors from the buffeting of world storms, seemed to me a metaphor for refuge in a larger sense. And, oddly enough, Williams' phrase "no wind" almost seemed to conjure up its opposite: a great fearful wind that might at any moment blow everything away like a structure of matchsticks.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

The Williams poem is stunning. It calls to mind the Eastern forms and more.

It feels like a pause. Everything has stopped.

The poem, without punctuation, feels incomplete, one wishes to fill the meter out with another line or two, as one fills in details with the finest haiku. The poem and its denouement take place in the reader's head, the reader finishes the poem.

Which is what it feels like the Burchfield's do. They give us - the pause finished - what we know is yet to come.

TC said...


Yes, and in that pregnant pause a feeling of the premonitory at work.

"It all depends on how you interpret 'favorable'", quoth the bandaged-up inhouse Oracle.

Thinking about it now, a timid-to-mild elation...?

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

If the poem is really a distant cousin of Eastern lyricism then perhaps what is favorable is the very moment the narrator is in, the pause if you will, when quietness reigns.

Perhaps the day is favorable in and of itself.

You've got my synapses firing on this. Thanks again for pointing to this great poem.


TC said...

To pause in the moment forever...

("It's certainly true of life in general", quoth the bandaged-up Muse, "but not when you're having a horrible moment.")