William Carlos Williams passport photograph 1921

William Carlos Williams in 1921. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

William Carlos Williams
Born September 17, 1883(1883-Template:MONTHNUMBER-17)
Rutherford, New Jersey, United States
Died March 4, 1963(1963-Template:MONTHNUMBER-04) (aged 79)
Rutherford, New Jersey, United States
Occupation Writer, doctor
Nationality United States American
Literary movement Modernist poetry, imagism
Notable work(s) "The red wheelbarrow"; Spring and All; Paterson

William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 - March 4, 1963) was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism.



Williams was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Williams "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician"; but during his long lifetime, he excelled at both.[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, the older son of Raquel Hélène Rose (Hoheb), originally from Puerto Rico, and William George Williams, who was born in England but raised in the West Indies.[2] Aside from family trips and college, he would live his entire life in Rutherford.[3]

He received his primary and secondary education in Rutherford until 1897, when he was sent for 2 years to a school near Geneva and to the Lycee Condorcet in Paris. He attended Horace Mann High School upon his return to New York City and after having passed a special examination, he was admitted in 1902 to the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania.[4]


Williams married Florence Herman (1891-1976) in 1912, after his earlier proposal to her older sister was refused.[5] They moved into a house in Rutherford, which was their home for many years. Shortly afterward, his 1st book of serious poems, The Tempers, was published.

On a trip to Europe in 1924, Williams spent time with writers Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Florence and Williams' sons stayed behind in Europe to experience living abroad for a year as Williams and his brother had in their youth.


Although his primary occupation was as a doctor, Williams had a full literary career. His work consists of short stories, poems, plays, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, translations and correspondence. He wrote at night and spent weekends in New York City with friends - writers and artists such as avant-garde painters Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia and poets Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore. He became involved in the Imagist movement but soon he began to develop opinions that differed from those of his poetic peers, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Later in his life, Williams toured the United States giving poetry readings and lectures.

During World War I, when a number of European artists established themselves in New York City, Williams became friends with members of the avant-garde such as Man Ray, Francis Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1915 Williams began to be associated with a group of New York artists and writers known as "The Others". Founded by the poet Alfred Kreymborg and by Man Ray, this group included Walter Conrad Arensberg, Wallace Stevens, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore and Duchamp. Through these involvements Williams got to know the Dadaist movement, which may explain the influence on his earlier poems of Dadaist and Surrealist principles. His involvement with The Others made Williams a key member of the early modernist movement in America.

Williams disliked Pound's and, especially, Eliot's frequent use of allusions to foreign languages and Classical sources, as in The Waste Land. Williams preferred to draw his themes from what he called "the local". In his modernist epic collage of place, Paterson (published between 1946 and 1958), an account of the history, people, and essence of Paterson, New Jersey, he examined the role of the poet in American society.


Modern liberals portray Williams as aligned with liberal democratic issues; however, as his publications in more politically radical journals[6] like New Masses suggest, his political commitments were further to the left than the term "liberal" indicates. He considered himself a socialist and opponent of capitalism, and in 1935 published "The Yachts", a poem which indicts the rich elite as parasites and the masses as striving for revolution. The poem features an image of the ocean as the "watery bodies" of the poor masses beating at their hulls "in agony, in despair", attempting to sink the yachts and end "the horror of the race". Furthermore, in the introduction to his 1944 book of poems "The Wedge", he writes of socialism as an inevitable future development and as a necessity for true art to develop.

In 1949, he published a booklet, "The Pink Church" that was about the human body but was understood, in the context of McCarthyism, as being dangerously pro-communist. The anti-communist movement led to his losing an appointment as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1952-1953, an event that contributed to his being treated for clinical depression. In an unpublished article for BLAST, Williams wrote that artists should resist producing propaganda and be "devoted to writing (first and last)." However, in the same article Williams claims that art can also be "in the service of the proletariat".[7]


After Williams suffered a heart attack in 1948, his health began to decline, and after 1949 a series of strokes followed. He also underwent treatment for clinical depression in a psychiatric hospital during 1953.[8] Williams died on March 4, 1963 at the age of seventy-nine at his home in Rutherford.[9][10] He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.[11]

Two days after his death, a British publisher announced that he was going to print his poems. During his lifetime, Williams had not received as much recognition from Britain as he had from the United States, and Williams had always protested against the English influence on American poetry.


USA Poetry Episode William Carlos Williams

USA Poetry Episode William Carlos Williams

Williams most famously summarized his poetic method in the phrase "No ideas but in things" (found in his poem "A Sort of a Song" and also in Paterson). He advocated that poets leave aside traditional poetic forms and unnecessary literary allusions, and try to see the world as it is. Marianne Moore, another skeptic of traditional poetic forms, wrote Williams had used "plain American which cats and dogs can read," with distinctly American idioms.

One of his most notable contributions to American literature was his willingness to be a mentor for younger poets. Though Pound and Eliot may have been more lauded in their time, a number of important poets in the generations that followed were either personally tutored by Williams or pointed to Williams as a major influence. He had an especially significant influence on many of the American literary movements of the 1950s: poets of the Beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Mountain school, and the New York School.

He personally mentored Theodore Roethke and Charles Olson, the latter instrumental in developing the poetry of Black Mountain College which subsequently influenced many other poets. Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, 2 other poets associated with Black Mountain, studied under Williams. Williams was friends with Kenneth Rexroth, the founder of the San Francisco Renaissance. A lecture Williams gave at Reed College was formative in inspiring 3 other important members of that Renaissance: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch.

One of Williams's most dynamic relationships as a mentor was with fellow New Jerseyite Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg claimed that Williams essentially freed his poetic voice. Williams included several of Ginsberg's letters in Paterson, stating that 1 of them helped inspire the 5th section of that work. Williams also wrote introductions to 2 of Ginsberg's books, including Howl.

Williams sponsored unknown poets such as H.H. Lewis, a radical Missouri Communist poet, who he believed wrote in the voice of the people. Though Williams consistently loved the poetry of those he mentored, he did not always like the results of his influence on other poets (the perceived formlessness, for example, of other Beat Generation poets). Williams believed more in the interplay of form and expression.


Williams' major collections are Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel, and other poems (1962), Paterson (1963, repr. 1992), and Imaginations (1970). His most anthologized poem is "The Red Wheelbarrow", considered an example of the Imagist movement's style and principles (see also "This Is Just To Say"). However, Williams, like his associate Ezra Pound, had long ago rejected the imagist movement by the time this poem was published as part of Spring and All in 1923. Williams is more strongly associated with the American Modernist movement in literature, and saw his poetic project as a distinctly American one; he sought to renew language through the fresh, raw idiom that grew out of America's cultural and social heterogeneity, at the same time freeing it from what he saw as the worn-out language of British and European culture.

Williams tried to invent an entirely fresh form, an American form of poetry whose subject matter was centered on everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. He then came up with the concept of the variable foot evolved from years of visual and auditory sampling of his world from the first person perspective as a part of the day in the life as a physician. The variable foot is rooted within the multi-faceted American Idiom. This discovery was a part of his keen observation of how radio and newspaper influenced how people communicated and represents the "machine made out of words" (as he described a poem in the introduction to his book, The Wedge) just as the mechanistic motions of a city can become a consciousness. Williams didn't use traditional meter in most of his poems. His correspondence with Hilda Doolittle also exposed him to the relationship of sapphic rhythms to the inner voice of poetic truth:

"The stars about the beautiful moon again hide their radiant shapes, when she is full and shines at her brightest on all the earth" - Sappho.

This is to be contrasted with a poem from Journey To Love titled "Shadows":

     Shadows cast by the street light
          under the stars,
                    the head is tilted back,
     the long shadow of the legs
               presumes a world taken for granted
     on which the cricket trills"

The breaks in the poem search out a natural pause spoken in the American idiom that is also reflective of rhythms found within jazz sounds that also touch upon Sapphic harmony. Williams experimented with different types of lines and eventually found the "stepped triadic line", a long line which is divided into three segments. This line is used in Paterson and in poems like "To Elsie" and "The Ivy Crown." Here again one of Williams' aims is to show the truly American (i.e., opposed to European traditions) rhythm which is unnoticed but present in everyday American language. Stylistically, Williams worked with variations on free-form styles, notably developing and utilising the triadic line as in his lengthy love-poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.[12]


  • "Forget all rules, forget all restrictions, as to taste, as to what ought to be said, write for the pleasure of it."[13]


Williams won the 1950 National Book Award for poetry]], for the 3rd volume of Paterson and his Selected Poems.[14]

In 1952 Williams was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but barred from serving out his term due to McCarthyism and unfounded accusations of William's membership in a communist organization. Williams retained legal counsel to refute the charges but was never allowed to respond to his critics and never received an apology from the Library of Congress.[15] [16]

In 1963, Williams was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Pictures from Brueghel, and other poems (1962) and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.[17]

The Poetry Society of America continues to honor William Carlos Williams by presenting an annual award in his name for the best book of poetry published by a small, non-profit or university press.

Williams' house in Rutherford is now on the National Register of Historic Places. He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009.[18]

William Carlos Williams CenterEdit

The William Carlos Williams Center for the Performing Arts is a private, not for profit performing arts and cinema complex located in downtown Rutherford, New Jersey.

The building that the center occupies was originally built in the 1920s as a Vaudeville theater known as the Rivoli. The Rivoli soon started showing silent movies and eventually "talkies". The theater enjoyed success until a fire destroyed part of the building in 1977. In 1978 a group of philanthropists started the Williams Center Project, which opened the Center in 1982.

The center featured 2 live theaters, 3 cinemas, and an open air meeting gallery.[19] The Bergen County Film Commission is now located in the Williams Center.[20]



  • Poems (as "William C. Williams"). privately printed, 1909.
  • The Tempers. London: Elkin Mathews, 1913.
  • A Book of Poems: Al que quiere!. Boston: Four Seas, 1917.
  • Kora in Hell: Improvisations. Four Seas, 1920; Kraus Reprint, 1973.
  • Sour Grapes. Boston: Four Seas, 1921.
  • Go Go. Monroe Wheeler, 1923.
  • Spring and All. Contact Publishing, 1923; Frontier Press, 1970.
  • The Cod Head. Harvest Press, 1932.
  • Collected Poems, 1921-1931 (with preface by Wallace Stevens). Objectivist Press, 1934.
  • An Early Martyr, and other poems. Alcestis Press, 1935.
  • Adam and Eve / The City. Alcestis Press, 1936.
  • The Complete Collected Poems, 1906-1938. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1938.
  • The Broken Span. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1941.
  • The Wedge. Cummington, MA: Cummington Press, 1944.
  • Paterson. New York: New Directions
    • Book I, 1946; Book II, 1948; Book III, 1949; Book IV, 1951; Book V, 1958
    • Books I - V published in one volume, New York: New Directions, 1963.
  • The Clouds. Wells College Press / Cummington, MA: Cummington Press, 1948.
  • Selected Poems (with introduction by Randall Jarrell). New York: New Directions, 1949; revised, 1968.
  • The Pink Church. Golden Goose Press, 1949.
  • Collected Later Poems. New Directions, 1950; revised, 1963.
  • Collected Earlier Poems. New York: New Directions, 1951; revised, 1966.
  • The Desert Music, and other poems. New York: Random House, 1954.
  • Journey to Love (includes Asphodel, that Greeny Flower). New York: Random House, 1955.
  • "The Lost Poems of William Carlos Williams; or, The Past Recaptured" (collected by John C. Thirlwall) in New Directions 16. New York: New Directions, 1957.
  • Pictures from Brueghel, and other poems (includes The Desert Music and Journey to Love). New York: New Directions, 1962.
  • Imaginations, 1970.[21]
  • Selected Poems (introduction by Charles Tomlinson). Penguin, 1976.
  • Collected Poems: Volume 1, 1909-1939 (edited by A. Walton Litz & Christopher MacGowan). Manchester: Carcanet, 1988.
  • Collected Poems: Volume 2, 1939-1962 (edited by MacGowan). Manchester: Carcanet, 1989.
  • Asphodel, that Greeny Flower, and other love poems. New Directions, 1994.
  • Early Poems. Dover Publications, 1997.
  • William Carlos Williams (compiled by S.L. Berry). Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2003.


  • "The First President" (3-act opera libretto), in American Caravan, 1936.
  • A Dream of Love (3-act play). New Directions, 1948.
  • Many Loves, and other plays: The Collected Plays. New York: New Directions, 1961.


  • The Great American Novel. Three Mountains Press, 1923; Folcroft, 1973.
  • In the American Grain. A. & C. Boni, 1925.
    • (with introduction by Horace Gregory). New York: New Directions, 1967.
  • A Voyage to Pagany. Macaulay, 1928; New York: New Directions, 1970.
  • White Mule (part I of White Mule trilogy). Norfolk, CT:New Directions, 1937; reprinted, 1967.
  • In the Money (part II of White Mule trilogy). Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1940; reprinted, 1967.
  • The Build-Up(novel; part III of White Mule trilogy). New York: Random House, 1952.

Short fictionEdit

  • The Knife of the Times, and other stories. Dragon Press, 1932; Folcroft, 1974.
  • A Novelette, and other prose. TO Publishers, 1932.
  • Life along the Passaic River. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1938.
  • Make Light of It: Collected stories. New York: Random House, 1950.
  • The Farmers' Daughters: Collected stories (with introduction by Van Wyck Brooks), New Directions, 1961.
  • William Carlos Williams: The doctor stories (compiled with an introduction by Robert Coles). New York: New Directions, 1984.
  • The Collected Stories. New York: New Directions, 1996.


  • A Beginning on the Short Story: Notes. Alicat Bookshop Press, 1950; reprinted, Norwood, 1978.
  • Autobiography. New York: Random House, 1951
    • also published as The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1967.
  • Selected Essays. New York: Random House, 1954.
  • I Wanted to Write a Poem: The autobiography of the works of a poet (edited by Edith Heal). Beacon Press, 1958.
  • Yes, Mrs. Williams: A personal record of my mother. McDowell, Obolensky, 1959.
  • The Embodiment of Knowledge (edited by Ron Loewinsohn). New York: New Directions, 1974.
  • Interviews With William Carlos Williams: "Speaking Straight Ahead" (edited with introduction by Linda Welshimer Wagner). New York: New Directions, 1976.
  • A Recognizable Image: William Carlos Williams on art and artists (edited by Bram Dijkstra). New York: New Directions, 1978.


  • Poetry for young people (edited by Christopher MacGowan). New York: Sterling, 2003.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The William Carlos Williams Reader (edited with introduction by M.L. Rosenthal). New Directions, 1966.
  • Imaginations(edited by Webster Schott; contains Kora in Hell, Spring and All, The Great American Novel, The Descent of Winter, & A Novelette, and other prose). New York: New Directions, 1970.


  • Philippe Soupault, Last Nights of Paris. Macaulay, 1929; Full Court Press, 1982.
  • Pedro Espinosa, A Dog and the Fever (novella) (translated with mother, Raquel Helene Williams). Shoe String Press, 1954.


  • Selected Letters (edited by John C. Thirlwall). McDowell, Obolensky, 1957.
  • William Carlos Williams and James Laughlin: Selected letters. New York: Norton, 1989.[22]
  • Pound / Williams: Selected letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (edited by Hugh Witemeyer). New York: New Directions, 1996.
  • The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams (edited by Christopher MacGowan). New Directions, 1998.
  • William Carlos Williams and Charles Tomlinson: A transatlantic connection (edited by Barry Magid & Hugh Witemeyer). New York: P. Lang, 1998.
  • The Humane Particulars: The collected letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[23]

William Carlos Williams--This Is Just To Say-1524331771

William Carlos Williams--This Is Just To Say-1524331771

Audio / video Edit

"Queen Anne's Lace" read by William Carlos Williams

"Queen Anne's Lace" read by William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams - Reading at Columbia 1942

William Carlos Williams - Reading at Columbia 1942

  • William Carlos Williams Reading His Poems (78). New York: National Council of Teachers of English, [194-?]
  • William Carlos Williams Reads His Poetry (LP). New York: Caedmon, 1958.
  • William Carlos Williams: The collected recordings (edited by Richard Baker & Richard Swagg). Keele, UK: Keele University, 1992-
  • William Carlos Williams (CD). Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, 2005.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[24]

Poems by William Carlos WilliamsEdit

  1. Metric Figure
  2. Peace on Earth
  3. The Red Wheel Barrow
  4. This Is Just To Say

See alsoEdit

5 Poems by William Carlos Williams

5 Poems by William Carlos Williams




  1. Richard Colgan, Advice to the Young Physician: On the art of medicine. Springer Press, 2009, 120. Print.
  2. William Carlos Williams, eNotes. Web, Jan. 19, 2019.
  3. "January Morning" by Physician-Poet William Carlos Williams, Renaissance School of Medicine, January 28, 2015, Stony Brook University. Web, Jan. 19, 2019.
  5. "Mrs. William Carlos Williams.". The New York Times. May 20, 1976. Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  6. . Educating English. 13 May 2008 William Carlos Williams Memorial
  7. Williams, William Carlos (1978). A Recognizable Image: William Carlos William on Art and Artists. W W Norton & Company. ISBN 0811207048. 
  8. Fisher-Wirth, Ann. "Williams's "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"". Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century. 
  9. Casey, Phil (March 5, 1963). "Poet Williams Dies of Stroke. Works in 40 Volumes Likened to Chekhov.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  10. "William Carlos Williams Dies. Physician Long a Leading Poet. Won Many Literary Honors Over Half a Century. Was 79 Years Old. Combined Two Professions. Won Literary Awards.". The New York Times. March 5, 1963. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  11. Strauss, Robert (March 28, 2004). "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  12. Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, ISBN 9781579582401
  13. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), The Poetry Archive. Web, Jan. 12, 2014.
  14. "National Book Awards – 1950". National Book Foundation. Web. Feb/ 25. 2012.
  15. Dan Vera, "The Library and its Laureates: The examples of Auslander, Williams, Dickey & Kumin,"Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Volume 10.4, Fall 2009
  16. Reed Whittemore, William Carlos Williams: Poet from Jersey, Houghton Mifflin, 1975, 309-314. Print.
  17. William Carlos Williams, Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Web, June 15, 2018.
  18. New Jersey to Bon Jovi: You Give Us a Good Name Yahoo News, February 2, 2009
  19. November 6, 2007
  20. Accessed October 3, 2008
  21. "William Carlos Williams," Wikipedia, June 23, 2012.
  22. James Laughlin 1914-1997, Poetry Foundation, Web, Oct. 29, 2012.
  23. William Carlos Williams 1883-1963, Poetry Foundation, Web, June 23, 2012.
  24. Search results = au:William Carlos Williams + Audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 24, 2015.

External linksEdit

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