"The Cave" was first published in the Summer 1975 special issue, "Talking American Poetry," and was later substantially revised for publication in C. K. Williams's With Ignorance and in various subsequent books, including Poems 1963-1983 and Selected Poems. At the poet's request, we have included the revised version here. WILLIAMS recently wrote to us about the circumstances which led him to write the poem:
I wanted to write a poem about the fact that I never seemed to see anything that I was supposed to see: never a naked woman in a window, a couple making love in a park, etc. The first versions of the poem, one of which was published in Chicago Review, was manifestly about this, but then l felt, revising the poem again, that the subject had grown beyond that. I had worked for a number of years as a group-therapist with adolescents, some very troubled, and l felt as though there might be something more meaningful in dealing with what one doesn't see in another person' s mind, rather than what might not be seen with the eyes, and also with what one sees and doesn't see within one's own mind. Around the time I was thinking about the poem, I also happened to be on a bus in New York, and heard and saw a man pointing at his eyes, and saying, as in the poem, "Too much fire! Too much fire!" My wife was also pregnant at the time, and somehow - it would really be impossible to recall how now - all these themes came together in the narrative of the poem. Although the poem technically was "fiction," it was a very important work for me, because it brought together so many themes with which I was deeply concerned. There's a nice little footnote to the story: one of my professors in college, Maurice Johnson, who had been my advisor and mentor, saw the version in the Review, told me he liked it a lot, then, when I showed him the final version, he said, "You certainly know what you're doing," which I took as a quite splendid comment to have from an old teacher.
I think most people are relieved the first time they actually know someone who goes crazy.
It doesn't happen the way you hear about it where the person gibbers and sticks to you like an insect:
mostly there's crying, a lot of silence, sometimes someone will whisper back to their voices.
All my friend did was sit, at home until they found him, then for hours at a time on his bed in the ward,
pointing at his eyes, chanting the same phrase over and over. "Too much fire!" he'd day. "Too much fire!"
I remember I was amazed at how raggedy he looked, then annoyed because he wouldn't answer me
and then, when he was getting better, I used to pester him to tell me about that fire-thing. …