ABSTRACT

I demonstrate how a key material feature of verse—the line—becomes for William Carlos Williams a visual element of prosodic innovation through which he breaks (or enjambs) the line. I suggest that Williams, taking a clue from modernist arts, was by no means a proponent of “free verse” and that contrary to Marjorie Perloff’s statement that Williams “never quite understood the workings of his own prosody,” Williams’s understanding of the workings of a line is based on the fact that the ear is not a slave to the eye, while the visual response of the reader is one thing, and the aural response another. Even when one reads a poem silently, the ear is still there, though as a counterpart to the eye rather than in alignment with it. I argue that Williams’s approach to prosody assumes that the aural and the visual coexist and interact in his poems, although often in terms of tension rather than mutual support. Through comparisons with poems by Wallace Stevens and close reading of Williams’s lineation and syntax in poems such as “Good Night” and “Bird” I demonstrate Williams’s conviction that there is a fundamental connection between seeing and naming, and that in order to properly and effectively name our experiences and stay in touch with the real we constantly have to renew our language, in and outside poetry.

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