Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Excerpt

An introduction to these poems can be useful to the reader in
the way that an introduction to Peirce or William James can
be: the reader is entering a realm that has some of the confu
sion and richness of the world, and any sort of summary is use
ful that keeps him reassured for a while—after that the place
is its own justification. But most readers will automatically
make any adjustments they need to make for writers so out
spoken, good-hearted, and largely generous as Peirce and
James and Williams. Just their voices are introduction enough:
if an American doesn’t understand these men, what will he
understand?

Anyone would apply to Williams—besides outspoken,
good-hearted
, and generous—such words as fresh, sympa
thetic, enthusiastic, spontaneous, open, impulsive, emotional,
observant, curious, rash, courageous, undignified, unaffected,
humanitarian, experimental, empirical, liberal, secular, demo
cratic
. Both what he keeps and what he rejects are unusual:
how many of these words would fit the other good poets of
the time? He was born younger than they, with more of the
frontier about him, of the this-worldly optimism of the 18th
century; one can imagine his reading Rameau’s Nephew with
delighted enthusiasm, but wading along in Karl Barth with
a dour blank frown. (I don’t mean to dissociate myself from
these responses.) And he is as Pelagian as an obstetrician should
be: as he points to the poor red thing mewling behind plate
glass, he says with professional, observant disbelief: “You mean
you think that’s full of Original Sin?” He has the honesty that
consists in writing down the way things seem to you yourself,
not the way that they really must be, that they are, that every
body but a misguided idealist or shallow optimist or bourgeois . . .

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