Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Sort Of A Song

A Sort Of A Song

by William Carlos Williams

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
—through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.


  1. One way to read “A Sort of a Song” is as a guide to Williams’s poetry. The snake is a metaphor for the poet. The poet, like the snake, waits patiently and quietly in the weeds, observing the world “sleepless[ly]”. Then, when the poet’s mind seizes on something, the poet is “sharp to strike” before again becoming “quiet to wait.” So, the poet is a patient observer who when his or her imagination is stirred strikes with language.
    Then, beginning in the seventh line, the speaker talks about using “metaphor to reconcile/the people and the stones.” In other words the poet—through metaphor—connects people to the world around them. The poet shows relationships, connections, likenesses, disruptions between people and things, between feelings and things, between ideas and things, between this and that. In Williams’s poetry these relationships are often implied not explicit, so be on your toes. You will notice that Williams’s poetry incessantly (or “sleepless[ly]”) shows an active, imaginative mind expressing relationships between itself and its surroundings, and among things in the surroundings.
    That leads me to the most famous phrase in the poem: “No ideas/but in things.” For Williams, the ideas (and the feelings) in poetry must be found in, must be based upon, must be derived from the physical world we inhabit.