Friendship Poems

William Carlos Williams Biography

William Carlos Williams, also known as WCW, was born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey, a community near the city of Paterson. Williams, an American poet closely associated with modernism and the Imagist movement, was also a pediatrician and general medical practitioner.

Williams attended a public school in Rutherford until 1896, at which time he was sent to study at Chateau de Lancy near Geneva, Switzerland. He also spent two years studying at the Lycee Condorcet in Paris, France before returning to the United States to study at Horace Mann School in New York City. In 1902, Williams entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and, while studying there, he became friends with Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and painter Charles Demuth. The friendships he created influenced his growth and passion for poetry; however, they did not hamper his efforts at finishing his education. In 1906, Williams received his M.D. and spent the next four years doing internships in New York City and traveling aboard while doing postgraduate studies. It was while he was traveling and studying aboard that his most famous poem, Between Walls, was published.

Although Williams was primarily a doctor, he still had a full literary career. Throughout his literary career, he wrote short stories, plays, poems, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, translations and correspondence. Williams could not dedicate very much time to his writing during the day due to his busy medical career, so he did most of his writing at night. On the weekends, he spent time with his friends in New York City. Williams also became involved in the Imagist movement, developing opinions that differed from those of his poetic peers, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.

His willingness to be a mentor for younger poets was one of Williams’s most notable contributions to American literature. In fact, a number of important poets in subsequent generations were either personally tutored by Williams or named Williams as a major influence. Williams significantly influenced many of the American literary movements of the 1950s including poets of the beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Mountain School and the New York School. Williams personally mentored Charles Olsen, who helped develop the poetry of the Black Mountain College and subsequently influenced many other poets.

When Spring and All was published in 1923, Williams had already rejected the Imagist movement, although his most anthologized poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, considered an example of the Imagist movement’s style and principles, was included in the publication. By 1923, Williams’s strongest association was with the American Modernist movement in literature.

Williams tried to invent a new, American form of poetry, where the subject matter was focused on everyday occurrences of life and the lives of ordinary people. This led to his creation of the concept of the variable foot, which resulted from years of visual and auditory sampling of his world as a physician. The variable foot is now rooted within the multi-faceted American Idiom. Williams didn’t write poetry using traditional meter, instead his breaks in the poem were a natural pause spoken in the American Idiom. Williams experimented with different types of lines until he found the “stepped triadic line,” which is a long line divided into three segments.

In 1912, Williams married Florence Herman; they moved to Rutherford, New Jersey. His health began to decline in 1948, when he had a heart attack. After 1949, Williams suffered a series of strokes and his health declined further until he finally passed away on March 4, 1963, at the age of seventy-nine. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in May 1963.

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