Language

James E. Breslin: On "Spring and All"

This poem does not simply describe the physical qualities in a landscape; its center is an act of perception, "the stark dignity of / entrance," the slow penetration of a desolate landscape by an awakening observer. We follow the thrust of his imagination downward, through obstacles, to a new union with the physical environment. The progression in the poem is literally downward: the observer goes from "the blue / mottled clouds," across a distant view of "broad, muddy fields," to the quickening plant life right before him--and then penetrates even further downward, into the dark earth, as he imagines the roots taking hold again. The panoramic view, with its prospect of "muddy fields," dried weeds, "patches of standing water," offers nothing with which the imagination might joyously connect itself. At first an apparently blank and "lifeless" nature invites the observer to passivity and despair; but Williams pushes through vacancy to uncover dormant life.

Implicitly, "By the road" argues that Eliot's despair derives from his cosmopolitanism, his detachment from a locality. What the tenacious observer here finally perceives is no "waste" land but a "new world" and he makes his discovery by narrowing and focusing Whitman's panoramic vision upon the near and the ordinary. In the torpor of ordinary consciousness, what we find by the road to the contagious hospital is a desolate landscape. But the awakened consciousness, focused sharply and including everything in the scene, discovers novelty and life, the first "sluggish / dazed" stirrings of spring. Hence poet and landscape are gradually identified--as he too grips down and begins to awaken.