The Life and Art of William Carlos Williams


A red wheelbarrow
Photo by Claire Thompson via Flickr

Can you find beauty in simple things? Spotlight tells about a U.S. poet who wrote beautiful poems about normal things.

Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Anne Muir.

Voice 2  

And I’m Nick Page. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

Today’s program begins with a poem called “The Red Wheelbarrow.” It is simple, but it is also beautiful. It tells about an object a person might see on a farm - a wheelbarrow. This device can help a person carry large loads. It is a small cart with one wheel in the front and two long, usually wooden, handles. Listen as the poem paints a picture around this simple object.

Voice 3  

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Voice 2  

This poem was published in 1923. The poet was a doctor who loved words. Or maybe he was a poet who was also a doctor. He loved poems so much he would write them on the cards which he would give people to tell them what medicines to take. His name was William Carlos Williams. Many of his poems tell the story of simple life in the United States. But they were also a way for Williams to express creativity. Today’s Spotlight is on the life and work of William Carlos Williams.

Voice 1  

William Carlos Williams was born in 1883 in New Jersey, in the United States. His father was English and his mother was Puerto Rican. He was like other boys his age. He loved to run and play with his friends. But when they would get tired and go inside, William would stay outside. William loved to be outside. He walked through forests. He played in fields and watched birds and animals. He would lie down next to a river and listen to it. Sometimes he felt so at peace that he would fall asleep.

Voice 2  

Williams understood he could not do this all the time. As he grew up, he went to school. He was a good student and worked hard. He was always very busy and running from one place to another.

Voice 1  

But there was one class that made him move slowly: his poetry class. His poetry class made him feel calm. He would listen to his teacher read poems and feel different. He slowed down. He felt just like he used to when he would lie down by the river. He felt at peace.

Voice 2  

So one day, Williams decided to begin writing his own poems. Each night he would write more poems. He still had school and sports and everything else. But at night he would sit at his table and write a little bit.

Voice 1  

At first he tried to write like the famous poets he loved. But he discovered that he wanted to write about different kinds of things. He wanted to write about “ordinary”, or normal, things. He wanted to write about the things he saw in nature. His poems started to become simple and clear. This poem is called “A Spring Storm”. It tells about a storm that comes in the season of spring. The water cuts paths in the snow and ice, and keeps moving.

Voice 3  

The sky has given over
its bitterness.
Out of the dark change
all day long
rain falls and falls
as if it would never end.
Still the snow keeps
its hold on the ground.
But water, water
from a thousand runnels!
It collects swiftly,
dappled with black
cuts a way for itself
through green ice in the gutters.
Drop after drop it falls
from the withered grass-stems
of the overhanging embankment.

Voice 2  

Williams enjoyed this simple way of writing poems. But writing poetry does not earn a lot of money. So Williams decided to become a medical doctor. He liked the idea of helping people in this way. In medical school, he connected with more poets and other artists.

Voice 1  

After medical school, Williams moved back to his hometown in New Jersey. At that time, a local doctor would visit a person’s house. Williams found a lot of ideas for his poems in his work. Here is a poem called “Complaint”. It tells about a visit to a woman who will have a baby.

Voice 3  

They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one golden needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.

Voice 2  

As a doctor, Williams had much to do. There were not a lot of doctors in town, so he was very busy. But at night, he would make time for writing poetry, short stories, plays, and other things. After everyone in town had gone to bed, Williams would turn on a small light and write. He would write about what he saw, felt, or had done - even if it was unimportant. This poem is called “Between Walls”. It tells about a kind of forgotten place behind a hospital. It is about garbage, but it still has a beauty.

Voice 3  

the back wings
of the

hospital where
nothing

will grow lie
cinders

In which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
bottle

Voice 1  

William Carlos Williams was a good doctor. But he also became famous as a poet. Students read his work in schools in the United States. He influenced many writers who came after him. He won many awards for his poetry. These included a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Now there is even an award called The William Carlos Williams Award. It is given out by the Poetry Society of America.

Voice 2

We end today’s program with one of Williams’ most famous poems called “This is Just to Say”:

Voice 3  

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Voice 1  

Do you think it is better to make money or to make art? Have you ever had to do something to make money while your heart was somewhere else? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Life and Art of William Carlos Williams’.

Voice 1  

Look for our listening app in the Google Play store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you think it is better to make money or to make art?

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