Although Williams’s “Birds and Flowers” appears to be relatively simple, spare, and therefore quintessentially Williamsesque, it has parallels with both John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the responding commentary of Marianne Moore’s experimental, skeptical, collage-like “Marriage.” Through these plot-level allusions, Williams maintains a version of his typically enthusiastic speaking subject while casting doubt on that subject’s perceptiveness: “Birds and Flowers” reflects on its speaker’s—and by extension its author’s—own gendered perspective. In extending our sense of Williams’s allusive practices, this essay considers questions about Williams’s stance toward his own work, and about its self-doubting or self-critical strains.

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