The Monday Poem: Improvisation IV by William Carlos Williams



Mamselle Day, Mamselle Day, come back again! Slip your clothes off!—the jingling of those little shell ornaments so deftly fastened—! The streets are turning in their covers. They smile with shut eyes. I have been twice to the moon since supper but she has nothing to tell me. Mamselle come back! I will be wiser this time.

That which is past is past forever and no power of the imagination can bring it back again. Yet inasmuch as there are many lives being lived in the world, by virtue of sadness and regret we are enabled to partake to some small degree of those pleasures we have missed or lost but which others more fortunate than we are in the act of enjoying.

If one should catch me in this state! —wings would go at a bargain. Ah but to hold the world in the hand then— Here’s a brutal jumble. And if you move the stones, see the ants scurry. But it’s queen’s eggs they take first, tax their jaws most. Burrow, burrow, burrow! there’s sky that way too if the pit’s deep enough—so the stars tell us.

It is an obsession of the gifted that by direct onslaught or by some back road of the intention they will win the recognition of the world. Cezanne. And inasmuch as some men have had a bare recognition in their lives the fiction is continued. But the sad truth is that since the imagination is nothing, nothing will come of it. Thus those necessary readjustments of sense which are the everyday affair of the mind are distorted and intensified in these individuals so that they frequently believe themselves to be the very helots of fortune, whereas nothing could be more ridiculous than to suppose this. However their strength will revive if it may be and finding a sweetness on the tongue of which they had no foreknowledge they set to work again with renewed vigor.


How smoothly the car runs. And these rows of celery, how they bitter the air—winter’s authentic foretaste. Here among these farms how the year has aged, yet here’s last year and the year before and all years. One might rest here time without end, watch out his stretch and see no other bending than spring to autumn, winter to summer and earth turning into leaves and leaves into earth and—how restful these long beet rows—the caress of the low clouds—the river lapping at the reeds. Was it ever so high as this, so full? How quickly we’ve come this far. Which way is north now? North now? why that way I think. Ah there’s the house at last, here’s April, but—the blinds are down! It’s all dark here. Scratch a hurried note. Slip it over the sill. Well, some other time.

How smoothly the car runs. This must be the road. Queer how a road juts in. How the dark catches among those trees! How the light clings to the canal! Yes there’s one table taken, we’ll not be alone. This place has possibilities. Will you bring her here? Perhaps—and when we meet on the stair, shall we speak, say it is some acquaintance—or pass silent? Well, a jest’s a jest but how poor this tea is. Think of a life in this place, here in these hills by these truck farms. Whose life? Why there, back of you. If a woman laughs a little loudly one always thinks that way of her. But how she bedizens the country-side. Quite an old world glamour. If it were not for—but one cannot have everything. What poor tea it was. How cold it’s grown. Cheering, a light is that way among the trees. That heavy laugh! How it will rattle these branches in six weeks’ time.


The frontispiece is her portrait and further on—the obituary sermon: she held the school upon her shoulders. Did she. Well—turn in here then:—we found money in the blood and some in the room and on the stairs. My God I never knew a man had so much blood in his head! —and thirteen empty whisky bottles. I am sorry but those who come this way meet strange company. This is you see death’s canticle.

A young woman who had excelled at intellectual pursuits, a person of great power in her sphere, died on the same night that a man was murdered in the next street, a fellow of very gross behavior. The poet takes advantage of this to send them on their way side by side without making the usual unhappy moral distinctions.


You can read the other improvisations here.

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