This article reexamines Williams’s notion of the American idiom by means of his iconic 16-word poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” and through his translations of works by Soupault, Char and Éluard. Williams identifies a distinctive rhythmical characteristic of the “American turn of phrase”—a basic anapestic measure as opposed to an iambic pentameter. The poet’s determined attempt to render American English distinct from British English and to promote its poetic merits as equal to those of the traditional literary language is seen in his use of the American idiom when translating from French. The article concludes, with reference to theories of translation, that for Williams the act of translation signifies an endeavor to test and demonstrate the unconventional poetic potentiality of the language that he cherished and that his compatriots spoke.

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