Peter Schmidt: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace"

Stieglitz' experiments with combining the still life and the landscape are also reflected in Williams' work. The four flower studies he published in Sour Grapes (1921), "Daisy," "Primrose," "Queen Anne's Lace," and "Great Mullen," are especially interesting for their sense of scale. "Daisy," for example, moves from a rapid overview of "Spring . . . gone down in purple," "weeds . . . high in the corn," a clotted furrow, and a branch heavy with new leaves, to a close-up of the poem's flower: "One turns the thing over / in his hand and looks / at it from the rear: brown edged / green and pointed scales / armor his yellow." Along with these visual devices Williams introduces metaphor, personification, dramatic debate, and apostrophe, and varies their tone from the restrained, dignified voice of "Queen Anne's Lace" to the grotesque shouting-match of "Great Mullen."

In "Queen Anne's Lace," literal and figurative description have been carefully joined, rather than simply juxtaposed as in "Daisy." And the poem's breadth of focus is breathtaking-it is a still life, a landscape, and a time-lapse photographic sequence. As if the poet were a botanist and we his best students, Williams shows us how the stem splits into a cluster of stems radiating upward, each supporting a white flowerette which, edging the others, composes the flower's lacy head. When Williams personifies the plant, his rhetoric carefully preserves its unique structure. The sun becomes an ardent male who creates a lover for himself touch by touch: "Each part / is a blossom under his touch / to which the fibres of her being / stem one by one." Williams then rapidly accelerates the pace of the poem, so that we see the field becoming populated in spring and the lovers increasing the momentum of their lovemaking. Then, suddenly, winter has come again, and the couple lies spent: ". . . stem one by one, each to its end, / until the whole field is a / white desire, empty, a single stem, / a cluster, flower by flower, / a pious wish to whiteness gone over— / or nothing." Pumping blood into Emerson's rather cerebral equation of natural and spiritual facts, Williams' "Queen Anne's Lace" shows them to be signs of sexual facts as well. Metaphor, personification, and myth-making accompany literal description, and the still life's landscape is emptied or filled within the leap of a line of verse.

From "Some Versions of Modernist Pastoral: Williams and the Precisionists." Contemporary Literature 21:3 (1980), 383-406.

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Criticism Overview
Title Peter Schmidt: On "Queen-Anne's-Lace" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Schmidt Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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