William Carlos Williams, Poet of the Week

Did you know that William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician?

The Monkey hatched a plan for National Poetry Month. He and I would pick four poets, one for each week, and record some poems by each. In years past, I have recorded a poem each day. The first year, in 2012, all of them were on YouTube. This took far more time than I had bargained for. Aside from work, nobody saw me the entire month of April that year. In 2013, I decided to mix it up and record a few on YouTube and more on SoundCloud. You can find all of the poems from both years, by searching here on this blog.

Suffice it to say, I like Micah’s plan better. It wasn’t easy selecting only four poets, but then we both like recording, so we knew we’d do more in time anyway. And there are lots of poem-a-day services available out there; we don’t need to worry that anyone is being neglected. For us this month, four is manageable, and we thought it would be fun to see which poems the other would chose. Already he’s ahead of me. You can listen to his poems by William Carlos Williams, along with a random chicken blooper, on his blog, The Monkey Prodigy. And then stick with us as we each bring you a selection of readings from three more poets before the month is out. As usual, in between, we’ll be sharing various other poetry and non-poetry paraphernalia.

You can follow along, starting on page 11, or go on to read the full text of the prose and poetry book, Spring and All, via Archive.org by clicking here.

“Pastoral,” first published in Others magazine in 1915, is in the public domain, so the text follows below. Two interesting side notes about “Pastoral:”

  1. I tried to look up “dog lime,” but came up empty handed. The closest I could find, and now I have misplaced the source, was the speculation that the man collecting dog lime was actually collecting dried dog poop (It goes white like lime) in order to use it for fertilizer. This seems as good an explanation as any to me.
  2. Since the sparrows are on the pavement, and the man is in the gutter, the title, “Pastoral,” implying idyllic scenes of country life, seems purposefully ironic. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about this in the comments.

The little sparrows
Hop ingenuously
About the pavement
With sharp voices
Over those things
That interest them.
But we who are wiser
Shut ourselves in
On either hand
And no one knows
Whether we think good
Or evil.
                Then again,
The old man who goes about
Gathering dog lime
Walks in the gutter
Without looking up
And his tread
Is more majestic than
That of the Episcopal minister
Approaching the pulpit
Of a Sunday.
These things
Astonish me beyond words.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi David – I always love hearing your poetry choices.
    And I wonder about the term Pastoral. The definitions give us the contrast between the idyllic and defiled, the purity of nature and the corruption of modern life. But also pastoral has a religious connotation and Williams contrasting the old mans tread with the priest- his god like dignity even while gathering dog shit.
    Just an idea.
    Hope all is well with you and yours – happy spring!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Kathleen, and what a wonderful observation! Williams must be winking at and nudging us with this double meaning in the title. I’m kicking myself (with a smile) for not having thought of that, but it’s right there before us, isn’t it? And don’t those ingenuine sparrows make one think now of parishioners quarreling about “those things / that interest them”? And what about “we who are wiser,” an ironic statement, I am sure. Maybe we stay out of the quarrel, but since nobody knows what we think, “good / Or evil,” are we any better? And how do we all compare to the dignity of the old man in the gutter with that lowly task of gathering dog shit for fertilizer? Thanks for unlocking more of the poem for me, Kathleen! Of course, so much of my speculation is subjective, but how wonderful that a good poem like this can pack so much into, and between, so few lines!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David, I loved both of these readings. I’ve asked a dozen times, and I think you’ve always answered the same way: :”How do you get so good at reading your poems?” “By reading them.” The last line of the first piece resonates within me still: “These things astonish me beyond words.” Keep me up to date on the podcast ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Steve! It’s still in the plans and hopefully, I’ll be able to bring it up from the back burner soon!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, and yeah, that last line moves me too, which is so interesting, because normally I would think that I would be less impressed by a line in which a writer says that what he feels is someone beyond words. So why does it work for me this time, I wonder? Don’t you wish we could sit across the table with Williams and pick his brain?


  3. Brian Dean Powers says:

    Wasn’t familiar with “Pastoral.” Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t either until Micah started sending me links. I stumbled upon it and just had to record it.


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