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"Queen-Anne's-Lace" also questions the subordination of floral imagery to female attributes. Poets have so often tended to link women with flowers that it has become a cultural commonplace, one so well established that the association has become automatic. But Williams forestalls that automatic cultural reflex. He begins with a negation rather than an affirmation: "Her body is not so white as. . ." He then begins removes the woman's body from the insubstantial and decorative floral confines and asks us to think in terms of a field. Later he drops that for a larger metaphor: the field plus the flowers in the field. It may be that Williams aims to revive an archaic comprehension of the earth as a goddess, an interpretation that poets had long since discarded.

We also find a suggestion of class struggle in the poem. "Queen-Anne's-Lace" comes fourth in a quartet of poems about flowers, but it is the only one to bear a woman's name. In fact, most common flowers are not named for women. (One obvious exception--The Blackeyed Susan--appears at the end of Spring and All.) Williams uses this plant with a regal name because the poem emphasizes the "whiteness" of the woman/flower. In Williams's younger days, pallor was still associated with the upper-classes and aristocratic leisure. But the poem gives short shrift to aristocratic reserve and high-mindedness. The regal becomes rooted in a "white desire," "a pious wish to whiteness gone over--" as if the true test of sovereignty is its origin in the soil and in fertility ritual.


From William Carlos Williams and Alterity. Copyright © 1994 by Cambridge University Press.