William Carlos Williams and the Modernist Attack on Logical Syntax Author(s): Patrick Moore Reviewed work(s): Source

: ELH, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 895-916 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2873179 . Accessed: 18/05/2012 09:24
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WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE MODERNIST ATTACK ON LOGICAL SYNTAX
BY PATRICK MOORE

is The use oflogicin place ofperception to principles. hostile The logician nevergetsto theroot. observe thegrowing (Fororientation and theprogressive strength ofBillWilliams dessication oflogicists and theconstructors ofsuperficial sequence.) -Ezra Pound By the time Ezra Pound published these remarksin 1931, "the of superfiprogressivedessicationof logicistsand the constructors cial sequence" was far advanced.' Forty years earlier, in 1891, JohnDewey had said, "I can only say thatformallogic seems to By me to be, at present,fons et origo malorumin philosophy."2 and 1931 an enormousamount of ink had been spilled in literary philosophicalcircles about logic and syntax. Scholastic logic had come under extensive attack in the late nineteenth centuryfromGottlob Frege, Guisseppe Peano, and Charles Sanders Pierce, among others. These more rigorouslogicians had exposed famous scholasticargumentsas fallacious. As Bertrand Russell explained, "traditionallogic regarded the two 'Socrates is mortal'and 'All men are mortal,'as being propositions, of the same form;Peano and Frege showed that they are utterly and his mortality can be different in form.""Socrates" is particular determined empirically."All men," however, is a general class whose extentand accuracycan never be determinedby directobthe assertion"all men are mortal"is servation.In all probability, is not the same as empiricalobservation. correct. But probability Propositionsabout the relationsbetween a particularand a class and propositionsabout the relationsbetween one class and another are not of the same logical form.Russell continues: "The philosophical importanceof logic may be illustratedby the fact that this confusion-which is still committedby most writersofjudgement and obscured not only the whole studyof the forms but also the relationsofthingsto theirqualities, ofconinference, 895

thatthereis a mistakesomewhere.5Yet and Stuart Korzybski booksby Alfred the 1930's. and the in word is (whichcouples the whole withits aspect or attribute the categoricjudgement) expresses (among other things)the a is b.makes one aspect essential.but thattheyexhibit "'mortal" Again. he thinks that "Socrates" and "mortal" must be identical. The predication-series operationperformed. Therefore. fewdecadesofthetwentieth in thefirst and language in especially the 1930's. Socrates is particular. it were nothingbut thataspect. forwant of care at the start. The purshould be satisfied pose. as puns. "identityin difference." Owing to thisconfusion. to abstract creteexistence ideas." Manyphilosophers-including themeanings of"to be" in orderto adgreatones-conflated severalmeanings ofthe attacked Russell Hegel's confusion their arguments. identifying 896 Williamsand Logical Syntax . longbefore withthe "is" ofidentity stoodthe trouble on theways commented and ErnestFenollosa James BothWilliam itin treated James things. vance withthe"is" ofidentity: "is" ofpredication Hegel's argument in this portion of his "Logic" depends the "is" of predication.he says. and we let its supernumerary determinations go. be throughout . philosopherwho drankthe hemlock. since Socrates is mortal. well into it continued about complaints underwriters Chase. he does not infer. In short. would.we substitutethe aspect for the whole real thing. however. and the two treatedas the same. . For our purpose the aspect can be substituted forthe whole.as in "Socupon confusing throughout as in "Socrates is the rates is mortal. But forthese we ferentangles of the realityat different to "see it whole. but forthe almost incredible factthat they are unintentional. ."with the "is" of identity.as others Seeing that they are different.so. This is an example of is the universal"is self-contradictory.4 one would be temptedto characterise aboutlogic in thewriting theme Misuseofthecopulais a common and century. how.and oftheworldofsense to concepts." is universal. to avoid disperas ifforthe timebeing we treatthe reality sion ofthe attention."3 theworldofPlatonic of logicwas themisunderstanding with formal problem Another oftheverb"to be. it followsthat the particularis the universal-taking the "is" to But to say "the particular expressiveof identity. thecopulacan be used tojoin dissimilar (1890): ofPsychology hisPrinciples Our varyingpractical purposes require us to lay hold of diftimes." and alwaysalike. philosophyare built upon stupidand trivialconfusions.vast and imposingsystemsof which.

These are piled in rows acuse. as we shall see.b is c. . c = d. and the fact that "is" "closely resembles" an equal sign enforces this impression. "It is extraordinarilydifficult.each by its convenient label." and array them to disprove their opponents' arguments. c is d. on the subject-verb order that is the basis of the syntax of Indo-European languages. and is ordinarily to it. a usage William Carlos Williams." Russell said." copula "is.threesubjects and a triadicrelation. two subjects and a dyadic relation. joining them with "is. Accordingto this European logic thoughtis a kind of brickyard." or ofblack mortar In thisway we produce such admirablepropositions as "A ringtailed baboon is not a constitutional assembly." and arraying them to support their case. It is baked into littlehard units or concepts.. stronglydisagreed with. Then they could select partially dissimilar concepts.. b = c. expressed by "or" or "if" or some analogousword. to oflanguage.6 The verb "is" used in such a way creates the impression that the one aspect is the whole thing. Ernest Fenollosa also discussed the verb "to be" in his famous essay on the Chinese written character: I have mentionedthe tyranny of mediaeval logic. together with relations between such units. All avoid being undulyinfluencedby the structure languages commonlyknownto civilized people consistof sentences which can be analyzed into subject and predicate. takes over this linguisticscheme. as conceived. . literate people thought that the meaning of an utterance automatically followed PatrickMoore 897 ... Logic. and stickingthem togetherinto a sort of wall called a sentence by the use either of white mortarfor the positive forthe negativecopula "is not. that is."7 According to Fenollosa. This cordingto size and thenlabeled withwordsforfuture use consistsin pickingout a fewbricks. in consideringsubstance fromthe point of view of logic. . medieval logicians could prove their arguments by selecting partially similar concepts from the world of correspondences.8 inclined to attribute metaphysical importance Because of centuries of schooling and habit. closely resembles forcertainpracticalpurposes the equation-seriesa = b. join them with "is not. Many philosophers blamed the problems in logic on the nature of language. This use of "is" enables writers to generalize from one category to all others. etc. etc.

repeatedly and the emphasized the difference between the "sentence"(form) "assertion"(content)ofan argument: to logicare between asserThe relations which are ofinterest anypossiblerelations between tions." Sidgewickillustrates feature Y. ormore grammatical. .""consequently"). "It is chieflywhere reasoning logic.notbetweensentences. as opposedto the sentence. of course.It is only or falsethatthe sentence can be viewedas capableoftruth 9 hood. fallaciesoccur. therefore well intoa does notnecessarily translate how the generalassertion specificsentence: "Bad workmencomplainof theirtools.1). Yetthe plains ofhis tools. .We mustlook behind the form assentto a to its assertionand itspurpose: "we cannotintelligently of its accountof its meaningis not givenby the generaldefinition terms. and therefore mere appearance of logical structure causes some people to believe a sentence mightbe true. It longer than another.e. X comX is a bad workman" (14)." If we translatethe first into a specific of these generalizations case. and . of considering words general apart fromtheir context"(199). different order. This is the case withmanyother logicalassertions:"A case X.the syntax. We beof the sentence come too enamored of the formalcharacteristics (its subject-predicateorder) or its apparentlylogical vocabulary ("hence.But formal logic.g. the final 898 Williamsand Logical Syntax . To get assertions expressed in a logical form(a sentence) one always had to consider the specific meaning or context of the thatwas often overlooked. words. but oftenit did not.but by the purpose of the moment"(353). "all beagles are dogs.. triesto translate into the specific cases of generallogical formulae language." "thus. Logic is fundamentally When one and thus vague. statement until we are clear about its meaning.as in the traditional thatjingles of sound are likelyto ape reasoning"(13 n.a consideration as Sidgewick said. but words are specificand particular.Often it did. agree in possessingthe X belongsto the class Z. . a commonmisinterpretation in logic is to treat"all Z are Y" as equivalentto "all Y are Z. operationsare made purelymechanical. had the "fatal habit ."all dogs are beagles. as confused with theassertion another is trueorfalse." the erroris obvious.in The Use of Words in Reasoning(1901). one maybe sentences are of a wholly sonorous." and thenreversethe terms. and a class Z. . Alfred Sidgewick. ormore whichis trueif is the assertion. As Sidgewicksaid.

the reality reflecting laid out beforethemby the hand ofGod. with littleor no appeal to concreteexperience. and irrevocably"."12 Yet everywhere a person turned to express the knowledge that he or she actively co-created. animals.to be equally possible. and thatone is then pronouncedto be realised in the actual world. Plants. whilston the otherhe registers the truth whichhe helps to create. at firstsight. Thus the world is constructed by means of logic. one that did justice to the perceived dynamismof reality. Where a number of alternatives seem." AlfredNorth Whitehead said. The knoweris an actor. includingJames.and early twentieth-century attack on scholasticlogic was only a symptomof somethingmuch larger:a full-scale war on existingconcepts ofreality. "The knower is not simply a mirror floatingwith no foot-hold anywhere. "The essense of lifeis its continuously "11 changingcharacter.'3It was time fora new kind of philosophy. perceptions were chopped into grammatical sentencesand renderedlifelessby staticlogic.The late nineteenth. Objects were not fixedor solid."'0 Thanks to Darwin and modern physics. In additionto theirattackon the staticconceptionofreality.and tidy.This new philosophyhad to make its positionon certainmatters clear. Late nineteenth-century psychologists.and passively reflecting an orderthathe comes upon and findssimplyexisting. the prevalentconception ofrealitychanged from the notionofa statichierarchy ofobjects to one of a dynamic movement of events." Russell wrote. but had evolved.with everythingin its proper place. the tidiness of the naturalworld was disrupted. and humankind had not been fixedin a hierarchy of relationssince the beginning of time." fullofwhirling the attackon logic and atoms.Earlier philosophersand scientistsbelieved thathuman consciousnessis a mirror. This glaring contradictionforcedJamesto abandon the logic of scholasticism: "I have finally foundmyself compelled to giveup thelogic. "The alternativephilosophic position. After the advances in science and psychology. they were "events. PatrickMoore 899 . the dissenting philosophers assaulted the existingideas about how people perceived reality. "becomes constructivethroughnegation. logic is made to condemn all of them except one.static. and co-efficient of the truthon one side. "Logic. began to doubt that human consciousness was so passive.One effect ofthe medieval use oflogic was to make natureappear to be what the scholastic logicianswanted it to be: rational. As James said.however.fairly. squarely.

then select. and he referred to these 16 However muchhe read ofthem. On logic. 189).I say."'17 On the dynamicnatureofreality: thingselse at any momentsubversiveoflifeas it was the moment before-always new. writers occasionally in his work. 23-24). 121)."14 These attackson logic and syntaxand the new conceptionof realitywere an important part of WilliamCarlos Williams'sintellectual milieu duringhis formative years as a poet. We know that he read Dewey's Art as Experience and Whitehead's Science and the Modern World.and the dynamicnature of life in some ways parallel and theirs.and a listof"booksto read and buy" thathe keptbetween 1908 and 1911 has these two entries:"Foun900 Williamsand Logical Syntax .and Williamssaid repeatedlythatintellectual incorporated into the poetic formof the time: "[The Poet] must first so thathe mayinventa discover. to choose its own logic-as it "Now lifeis above all pleases. but not grammatical sentences: deadfallsset by schoolmen"(P. and Whiteheadin "Chorale: the Pink Church": 0 Dewey!(John) 0 James! (William) 0 Whitehead! teachwell! (CLP.rejecting the mirrormetaphor:"He [Shakespeare] rivalsnaholds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination ture'scomposition withhis own.On syntax: "Kill the explicitsentence. He himself become[s] 'nature'continuing'its' marvels-if you will" (1. as we have seen.He refers often to it in his essays. He mentions James. On the natureofrepresentation.18 largement upon the forms Williams himselfwas fascinatedwith problems of syntax.don'tyou think? expand our meaning-by verbal sequences. it is clear thathis attitudesabout syntax. explaininghis attitudein an unpublishednote to Kenneth Burke: "Poetryhas a right. Sentences. the representation of reality.Dewey.161)15 It is unclearexactly how muchWilliamsread ofeach ofthese men. Such ideas."mustcommencewithdenouncingthe whole idea of'subject qualifiedby predicate' as a trap set forphilosophers by the syntax of language. logic. then formulate formcomprehensiveenough to include in hisformthe whole intellectualand moralconcept of his day in whichhis day is an enofall otherdays". irregular" (SL. occupied a centralplace in the intellectuallifeof the lifehad to be times.

E. .withthe grammar bindus to ourpet indolences which rhythms proseor poetical and medievalisms. These "thoughtless ideas that had fallen out of tune with reality. The artistor writer"has no connectionwithordered society. ' 7unce or purpose. But he is disconnected with any orderly ad- 901 . (SL. or poetic diction.. 163) It's the words. he said. fol. he wrote. S. He admired her of stupiditiesbound in our thoughtless for"tacklingthe fracture phrases. get back to.."21 PatrickMoore .Yet he believed."'9 Syntaxwas important cause he knew thatsyntax-and words-constituted thought. verbs.The elements of poems. withoutregard to convenwhich. and do is tiedup with we know Foreverything the whichstultifies. are inimicalto the poet's "fiery wants to express.syntax.).dations of Rhetoric Prof. Nesfield to Williamsbe(listofpreps..Within the poet. 164-65). 239). and are perpetuated social order thatperpetuate such statements light"and the realityhe by them.would accuratelyembody tionsofmeter. had become hopelesslymuddled: modern thought. A.. Untilwe get the powerof we are actuofthewords a newminting backthrough thought allysunk. phraseswordsmake. throughits flexiblesyntax. (chapt. wordswashedclean. too fieryforlogical statement.)"and "English GrammarPast & PresentJ. common misuse of conjuncts.. the with words."20 extend meaningbeyond form"would. purpose the writermighthave in mind. instinctivethought.Williams wanted to be sure that the meaningsofwordscould notbe easilyblurredintoeach other. (SE.. reality. Orderlylogical statements. if writtendown immediately. "there burns a fierylight.Williams rejected such ideas in favor of a writer's personal. the words we need to In his own poetic syntax. . in our calcified grammaticalconstructionsand in the subtle brainlessness of our meter and favoriteprose rhythmswhich compel words to followcertainotherswithoutprecisionof phrases" copied stale thought"(SE. must not be rigidlyunited into mustbe simple and singleso series. Hill.enablingreaders to create meaningand notbe mere passive receptacles of a meaning created forthem. The elementsofthe new form Such a "new that they are capable of every formof moulding.It is not of the nature of logical stateof and the forms ment. Williams any restrictive praised Gertrude Stein forbreakinglanguage out of its traditional patterns.

.22 to getat theunitofthemeasure By breakingdown the sentence and the line. .The sequence of grammatical logic to human minds. . one causes or passes into an. then. while non-sequentialmovementappears randomand purposeless: themindmovesin a we havebeen taught to think.willnotuse the medieval "is like" to join logic of "is" and the traditional poetic comparison dissimilar thingsto expressan idea. "in nature there is no completeness.Williams attacked traditional order by breakingthe syntactic things: conventions thatenabled writers to linkdissimilar We must break down theline thesentence in order to buildagain. Williamshoped to writea poetrythatwould emphasize the dissimilarities of things. successive. is its goal. perfections ofreality. 14). Either. for an end andhail"transition" only bothresorts arean improper of Take description your choice. . Williams believed that traditionalwriterstried to map their purposes and argumentsonto the subject-verbsequence of the resentence to give theirideas the appearance of approximating movementseems like natural ality." Writerscreate a logical sequence by suband then arranging dividingthe unityof realityinto constituents and with"is" and the parts into selected sequences relationships "is like. . Instead.or it will end which logicalsequenceto a definite movement without embrace itself goal otherthanmovement as supreme. As Fenolonlyappear definite losa says. even continuous. Good poems. The truth is that acts are other. No full sentence really completes a thought. 117) The first "resort"is erroneousbecause of the "logical sequence" and the "definite end. whichare extensions of the and thus theirparticular perfections. themind in fullest play. (SE. ." A definiteend does not existin a relativeworld:things because ofthe limitsofthe senses. good poems will apfrom pear broken:"Thus a poem is toughby no qualityit borrows a logicalrecitalofeventsnorfrom the eventsthemselves but solely fromthat attenuatedpower which draws perhaps many broken things intoa dance givingthemthusa fullbeing" (SE. All processes in nature are interrelated. and thus there 902 Williamsand Logical Syntax . . .

"23 with rewhencompared are impoverished sensesand sensibilities language. thanmovegoalother without "movement The second"resort.spawriters. defined wayone's end is also relative.tryto deny thisdynamic.moving whenit is mostto the fore. is But thatmovement mindat any one point-be keptmoving. pursues believesis an intense. and deepened. thewholeofwriting. appearances through superficial penetrate (SE. and convention towards ofassociation withmoreand more Since wordsare alwaysbeing encumbered it is essentialthatthe attention-thefocusof the associations. totheessenceofreality. Traditional freely." is equallyfalse.the so-called PatrickMoore 903 . and to make the present seem goal. broadened. cedures. That background" to "the appearanceof the luminous and goals. accessible only to the imagination.For Williams. which has movementfrom guered line of understanding which we sink decoraa holeinto downandbecoming breaking to rest. at the instant modern imperative of takesplace underan optimum ofwhatactually something It is an alertness nottoletgo of couldbe observed. dynamic whichWilliams whatever it has: inclination let us say. "Movement (forwhich in a pettyway logic is taken). play time in fullest In the properdescription of the attention stops.They dress movement theirideas and purposes with sequential. is reductive ofexpression andbecauseourmedium ality.save to thisdefinition) sentence(according could be no complete Because our one whichit would take all timeto pronounce.and intentions. parts. tively (SE. activity. goal is the dissolution thefixities awayfrom meansto thatend is a continual movement with closercontact reality." the goal is alwaysto mentitself. allowing the intelligence to roam however. 128). the present is not fixed. categories. intelligence with bedazzlement in our fearful a possibility of movement The goal is to keep a beleaand fixed some concrete present. onlya means. grammatical to make them appear inevitable.In this intodefinite we chop the seamlesswholeofreality proby one's assumptions. tialized present. The presentbecomes spatializedand the intelligence. It can be lengthened. as thoughit were a point on the way to a definite transitory. 117-18) For Williams. Iftheattention couldenvision and accurate ofthe overit in swift pursuit at one time. One of definitions.

Williams deviated from thesyntactic oftradiThough practices in innumerable tionalpoetry ways. He avoidedconstructions like. thenWilliams tocreate a poetry oflanguage. thuslimiting thesubordinating and coordinating connectives that a sentence. etc. finished." He preferred conlike. must always be considered aimless.he does notuse finite verbsto suggest the prohe prefers movement to a conclusion. it wishes. create thelogical between of relationships parts Third. Williams wants tobreakthrough thecrudities oftheperceptions torealizethat inhisverse.search fortruth and beauty.he uses parataxis extensively. and thatother thing thing. in somepoems.thereare fivetechniques of that deviation ofhismature syntactic appearin most poems. without progress" (SE. is for us theeffect ofa breakdown of theattention.especially 904 Williamsand Logical Syntax a primeWilliamsstrategy. gressive of thought particlausesthatcreateseparate." is every is thatthing. Second. things merely a single setofmeanings to assign or a related poetry meaning to a and thenuse thenewly thing assigned meanings to provea point an idea. 117). Donald Davie arguesthat"whatis common to all is theassertion modern poetry or theassumption often the (most in poetry is wholly different latter) thatsyntax from as unsyntax derstoodby logiciansand grammarians. Thingswere merely or. abandoned grammar thatwas fulloffragments and floating As HughKenner phrases. "The sentence left notreally becomes offered.impulses wereshared expressed that by other poets of his time. distinct ciples in modifying images thatfloatindependently."25 ."Thisthing is or convey or "Thisthing likethatthing.All othermovements-time. theyare merely "thefleshofa constantly repeated permanence" (SL. But movement must notbe confused with whatwe attach therescuing toitbut. ranging wherever grammatical sequence.for oftheintelligence. observed." Williams reacted sometimes to thing. he frequently uses copulative "tobe." to pile up verbs. orbysaying predication bygeneralizing one thing intoeverything Ifgrammar rules meant meansthetraditional something nothing. thing. that that other structions or "This thing."Thisthing.First." is thatthing. The movement thatWilliamsvalues is thatof the freely playing intelligence. "permanence The syntax ofWilliams's poetry reflects thede-forming impulses in hisprose.theiambic pentameter-mark thelimits ofour perceptions."24 Williamsseparated thereforWilliams. better were. 130)." or "Thisthing and thatotherthing. from syntax logic.He didnotliketouse syntax inhis still.

26 verbsin wholepoems. which. The only progression movementof impressionsfromoutside the window towardsthe observer.bywhich a keyis lying-Andthe immaculate white bed (CEP."is buried in a dependent clause that modifies "pitcher." and notuntilline 14 ofthe "Self-Portrait" in Picturesfrom Brueghel ("Springand All" is 27 21 lines long). "Self-Portrait" presents his impressions through juxtaposition.The restofthisessay examineseach ofthese techniques in detail." Williams lines long. "is lying. They suggest a signal interruption to the conventionthat refusalto round out. PatrickMoore 905 .Dashes marks. 348) 5 10 The one verb in this poem.Williams uses exclamations of instinct and the priority ical questions extensivelyto assert feelingover analyticdiscourse. Fifth.is one of Williams'sfavorite and suspension. Fourth. turned down. or set of related attributes a single attribute and rhetortransitive verbs. without ata rheorderthatfollows to overlaythemonto a syntactic tempting is in the in "Nantucket" torical purpose.withthe exclamation kindsof punctuation.a noun to thanlimiting attributes to a thing." The relationshipsbetween the phrases and clauses of the poem are loose.rather manydifferent withnon-copulative.the relationships and question oftenmarkedby a dash. In fact. a refusalto conform dictatesthatsuccessive sentencesshould be logicallycontinuous.Williamsinsertsdependent phrasesand clauses beforethe subjector between the subjectand the verb of a sentence to temporarily suspend closure and meaning.A finite appear untilline 15 of"Springand All. theyare not subordiare nated to each otheror to any ideas. In "Nantucket. is verycommon. thewindow Flowers through lavender and yellow curtains changed bywhite Smellofcleanliness oflateafternoonSunshine On theglasstray thetumbler a glasspitcher. not closure. or in Williams'spracticeofavoidingfinite verb does not large sectionsof a poem.

however. or a quick succession ofrelatedimages: its effect is meantto be instantaneous rather than cumulative. in other poems. as Williamstries to show the danger of perceptionwhen it is divorcedfroman active sense of the whole: Sea-Trout and Butterfish The contours and theshine holdtheeye-caught and lying and thetwo orange-finned half itssize. Williamslistsparticular impressions to emphasize the individuality and the beauty of the ordinary. The plot or argument ofolder poetryis replaced by a single.dominantimage." CEP. 109) ("Pastoral. ratherthana structure ofconsecutiveevents or thoughts. is extremely commonin his poetry. using parataxis. Williams's second practice."27As we shall see.Dashes suggestspontaneity. many of Williams's syntactic devices are meant to have "instantaneous ratherthancumulative"effects." CEP. 121) In these two passages. furniture gonewrong. The dashes and lack of verbs suggest.ashes. he simplylistshis impressions: Smallbarking sounds Clatter ofmetalin a pan A highfretting voice and a lowvoicemusical as a string twanged I walkbackstreets thehouses admiring ofthevery poor: roof outoflinewithsides theyards cluttered withold chicken wire.Again and again.as William Prattsays about Imagistpoetryin general. In "SeaTroutand Butterfish" parataxiscreatesambiguity. extremelyclose to the vagaries of the author's perceptions.he uses parataxisfordifferent purposes. thefences and outhouses builtofbarrel-staves ("Sunday. "a momentofrevealed truth. as thoughthe writing were automatic. pout-mouthed 906 Williamsand Logical Syntax .

" or The words"caughtand lying"in line 2 could refer to the "orange-finned"fish in the next line. and make themgeneral" (P. "Life cannotbe any one category"(EK. 277)."Wilphasized." Williams is acutely aware of the limitations of the senses. 91) to "the eye." As we have seen earlier. He complains later in his career about the "tyranny ofthe image" (PB. 3). "Silver scales. Particulars are emvorced fromthe whole. 15)."could refer to the scales and weightofthe fish. It is hard to tell what is relatedto what -which is Williams's intent. especially"to be. Williamswrote." the fishfromthe sea and then "separates thisfromthat"to focus exclusively-and menacingly-on "the fine fins' sharp spines. It unravels Butterfish.it kills. 125). 137) and hopes fora verse in which "the ear and the eye lie / down togetherin the same bed" are dangerousto Williamswhen theyare di(PB.and predicatedfrom to show how all thingsshare the eshe used "to be" extensively PatrickMoore 907 ." Yet Fenollosa would probablyapproveof Williams's use of "is" or "is not" because he did not assign an attributeto a noun withthe copula to prove a point. he wants"To make a start. In line 6.5 10 dish besideit on thewhite Silverscales. a good poem "draws perhaps many brokenthingsintoa dance givingthemthusa fullbeing" (SE. and thatwhen it does not see clearly. The analytic eye in "Sea-Troutand however. "depends / upon // a red wheel /barrow"(CEP." their"fullbeing. 14). Fenollosa complained that "to be" was the backbone of the "tyrannyofmediaeval logic. And in the "Preface"to his most /out ofparticulars / famouslong poem. Thus Williams uses parataxisin this poem to suggestthatthe analyticeye may not see so clearlyafterall. As we saw in an earlier passage. he is carefulto suggesta largercontext: liams says in his most famousshortpoem. the fishhave been tornfrom But in "Sea-Troutand Butterfish. or to a measuringdevice. does not make thingsgeneral. Williams's thirdsyntactic practice of this kind is his extensive use ofverbal copulas." theirlife in the sea. In his poems where particulars "so much. the weight.theweight quicktails aslant whipping thestreams The eye comesdowneagerly unravelled ofthesea thisfrom that separates spines and thefine fins' sharp (CEP.

239).the crowd.which callsthe"spirit ofuselessness" or "beauty. At the Ball Game The crowd at the ball game is moved uniformly by a spiritof uselessness which delightsthemall the excitingdetail of the chase and the escape. seriously withoutthought 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 (CEP.the Revolution It is beauty itself thatlives day by day in them idlyThis is the power of theirfaces It is summer." moveseverything. In "AttheBall Game.it is the solstice the crowd is cheering.the crowd is laughing in detail permanently.gets itThe Jewgets it straight-it is deadly. 284-85) 908 Williamsand Logical Syntax . too fiery forlogicalstatement" he variously (SL. the error the flashof geniusall to no end save beauty the eternalSo in detail they."theessence. are beautiful forthis to be warned against saluted and defiedIt is alive. venomous it smiles grimly its words cut The flashyfemalewithher mother.sence of reality: that"fiery light.terrifyingIt is the Inquisition.

At the end of line 21.Williams abruptly of "it" in the poem. forexactive and transitive verbs such as "warned. In defiance of the rules of logical syntax."and "solstice. nor does he typically related qualities of a subject or object. Williams'spracticeofusing"is" to attribute manyqualitiesto an object is related to his intensedislike forsimilesand ideas. He leaves the exact significance to the reader'simagination. vague. in subsequent lines. He wantsa "pure exchange" (SE.melt. In lines 16." ample." "It is beauty itself. To achieve that movement. boil. 234) between the audience and the work of art.as Williamsuses copulas to attributevery heterogeneousqualities to "it": "It is the Inquisition. 117). changes the referents "it" is "beauty/the eternal. In lines 13 to 16. "this"in line 13. where "them" is the object of"delights")."As we have seen in an earlier passage. "it" again refers to "beauty/the eternal". sence thatfreelyand playfully or objects to a certainproperty He does not use verbs to restrict one qualityin orderto advance a reductivepurpose. PatrickMoore 909 . but withoutspecifying much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow"[CEP. see and keep what the understanding touches intact-as grapes are round and come in bunches" (SE. 277]).Wilto the esliams attributes highlyvaried propertiesand attributes illuminatesall thingsfrominside. 233).but attributes thing.its subject is the "spirit forthe esof uselessness." "summer. and 18. transubstantiate. potentially passives as their "saluted" and "defied" are made into truncated agentsare deleted. "it" becomes the "Inquisition." "Revolution.""beautyitself. Williams did not want "to pull out. Williamsbelieves thatwhen "the mind [is] in fullestplay. Then. Williamsdoes tryto jam things intelligence is ("so what exactly thatsignificance cance. 17. however. apparently referring In the one case where a verb has a directobject (lines 3 and 4. unglue."In lines 20 and 21." it is alert "not to let go of a possibilityof movement"(SE. and theirobject. is extremely to the idea thatthe crowdis beautiful." which is one of Williams'ssynonyms sence of reality."Williamsrarelyuses a qualityofa potentially active verb to predicatea singlerestricting predicatea narrowset of subject or object."it" refers the "flashyfemale"and "jew" get from to the verbal punishment the crowd. not even to distillbut to hammer.""It is summer.digestand psychoanalyze.The verbs in thispoem are revealing.keepingthe thingand then moves on rapidlyto a different withsignifiin transit.

yellow! It is not a color. (CEP. a bird. forcing her or him into channels created by the writer'sintentions.the wavy lines in split rock.In so doing. fouropen yellow petals above sepals curled backwardinto reverse spikesTufts ofpurple grass spot the green meadow and clouds the sky. forget-me-nots in the ditch. his pink fists swinging It is a ladysthumb.yellow. as do non-copulative verbs when used to restrict predication. significations wheneverpos910 Williamsand Logical Syntax . The objects linked remain separate and distinct. the lap of waves.children playingcroquet or one boy a man fishing.Thus he prefers. 209) as he walks 5 10 15 20 25 30 The value of "is" in "Primrose"and otherpoems is thatit merely links objects.Similes defeatthispurpose. the shadow under a bush. It is summer! It is the wind on a willow. a dead hawk rotting on a pole Clear yellow! It is a piece of blue paper in the grassor a threecluster of green walnutsswaying.because theylimitthe "pure exchange"to the quality or facetisolated by the predication.moss under the flange of the carrail. it is a clusterof birdsbreast flowers on a red stem six feethigh. a bluebird. three herons.a greatoaktreeIt is a disinclination to be fivered petals or a rose. SometimesWilliamsreactsto the reductiveness and fixity oflanguage by launchinginto a riotof signification using "to be": Primrose Yellow. Williams dislikesthe complicatedpredicationsand subordinations of rhetoricthat fix meaning and then blur it by using the fixed in different contexts.yellow. they shackle the reader's imagination.

The animating essence of realitythat radiates into all thingscannot act upon something separate from an object.it intowarmth. triumphant ardor.beating it withrising.he often piles themup so thatpredication is notrestricted. 138) piled up verbs associated with the songs are all transitive. one of Williams's symbolsfor the essence of reality." the transitive"lifts."beating it. because it is partofall things.But he prefers the pure copula of"to be" PatrickMoore 911 "stirring it. He triesto emphasize thatexperience is a matter ofboth/and rather thaneither/or.are intransitive. But of the verbs associated with the sun." Williams'sresistanceto reductiveand blurring predicationruns all of his He of that he mustpredithrough poetry. a yellow rosecan be many things.-runs freeat last outintotheopen-! lumbering glorified in fullreleaseupward songscease. knows."' Once the sun becomes fully present. beating it. course.Thus itself.The firstverb with "sun.it permeates everything and distinctions between subjects and objects end: "songs cease. cate wheneverhe writes. dividing a heavysun lifts himself-is lifted bitby bitabovetheedge ofthings." and "bursting wildly against it. all but one.sible. rather. "runs" and "lumbering."is hastilychanged to the intransitive "is lifted":even an object that is the same as the subject is not permitted." "quickening it. it can act on itself.to getas farawayfrom thereductiveness ofconcrete predicationas the limits oflanguage willallow. as we see in the nexttwo intransitive verbs describing the sun.or.simplyact. When Williams does use non-copulative verbs." The Here the bird songs "pound" the sky.-beating it.it as bursting wildly against thehorizon. For Williams." . which is hastilycorrected. Dawn Ecstatic birdsongspound thehollow vastness ofthesky withmetallic clinkingscolorup intoit beating at a faredge. He avoidsreducing one thing to one quality. stirring in it a spreading quickening change. 5 10 15 (CEP. or everything.

and all of his other are general. 172) for a PlotofGround. 207) 5 phrases to mockpoets who think Here Williams startsmultiplying theycan use this sortofimageryto capturelove. 149) 912 Williamsand Logical Syntax ." ("Dedication cat. Love. In Al Que Quiere. in the service of some diatingessence of realityto a single quality abstract idea. Several morepoems end in sentencesthatcan be taken but are not punctuatedas such: as exclamations to thisplace Ifyoucan bring nothing butyourcarcass." it is everything.thus the spiritof one object is in many things.more ofthe properties because theytransfer or piled up attributes to over to another:theydo notreduce the predication ofone entity a single attributeor related set of attributescarried over by a rasingle verb.love is that: tendrils willow Poplartassels. keep out." CEP. technique throughwhich Williams avoids The fourthsyntactic the analyticaldeclarativesentence is the extensiveuse ofexclamations and rhetoricalquestions. ofApril Memory Yousaylove is this. CEP. But at the end of line he reacts with an exclamation.tinkle branches drifting apart. 210). as he says at the end of"Queen Anne's Lace. beauty.theyradiatethrough symbolsforthe essence ofreality ofa few and do not appear in the qualities or attributes everything things. outward. a book offortyquestions and one hundred and nine poems. light. Love has notevenvisited (CEP. in exclamation questions). blackPersian ("Mujer. Williams does not want to reduce the animating. there are forty-six poems end exclamation marks.Eighteen ofthe forty-nine fifty-five seven in or question marks(eleven in exclamations. "nothing"(CEP. and driptinkle and drip.Love never visits a the fifth in country an overlay of predicatingwords. thewindand theraincomb.Hagh! thiscountry.or in Or. Oh.Williamstriesto embodythe qualitiesoflove in radiating his syntax. it is inside of things. spirit.

148) and The subject and predicate of this sentence appear in the first interrupting lines of eight stretch those Between last lines quoted. Williamsofteninsertsdependent clauses between the subject and spans and prolongtheirattention verb to cause readers to intensify appear to close untilthe verb and its object or complementfinally the meaningof the sentence." "ah's. His frequentuse ofquestions illustrates the same problem: "How shall we get said what must be said?" (PB. The predicate of the third line. "Who shall describe the light?" (I. phrases and clauses. "whose body." "hagh's. (PB. many of which are themselvesinterrupted. with"foundrecently. There is no answer. When we are eyeball to eyeball with reality. 108)." "heigh-ya's. 124) ("Pastoral. Exclamationsshow thatsometimesWilliamscan onlyname things. The beginningof "A SmilingDane" is typical: The Danishnative era theChristian before whosebody intact features witha rope also intact roundtheneck found recently in a peat bog is dead." and "yea-uh's" are scatteredabout in his poems." "ha's.These things words." marks." "oh's.not analyze them." "pah's. Williams was so fullof the sense of the oneness of realitythathe oftencould not articulatethis sense in termsof a declarativesentence.and exclamations thatfailure.language and questions are ways Williams expresses fails." 913 PatrickMoore . me beyond astonish CEP. Williams'sotherpoems are fullofquestionand exclamation "Hot-cha's." "hey's. technique is his habit of using deviant syntactic Williams's fifth in order to loosen dissentence a phrases and clauses to interrupt course fromits normal linear movement towards a conclusion. 300)." "0's." does not appear lines The phrases interrupting until line 8.

214. 92.to poetry. 95).copulativeverbs.which appears in many of Williams' otherpoems. CLP. piled up non-copulative verbs. Williamswill encumberthe beginningof a sentence withparallel dependent phrases to delay the subject and verb: Pastdeath pastrainy days or thedistraction oflady's-smocks all silver-white. Whetheror not his poetrywas able "to solve the core /ofwhirling flywheels" (CEP.threeand eightare themselvesinterrupted: "also intact"separates "witha rope" and "roundthe neck.parataxis. This could refer to the title. PB. PB." The referent of "it" is also unclear. even thoughsuch was his goal: "All mylife basis away one thing-to break through to a morecomprehensive from rule" (EK. Both passages cited above and similarones elsewhere in Williams'swork(CEP." the fundamentalbasis ofreality. I began by quotingPound: "The logiciannevergetsto the root... and thencontinuing with "Past death / .. his floating syntaxhis participles. At the same time. "ifit does not driveus" in the second line. or to "Invention" vague pronoun reference. 251). CLP. and interruptive clauses-brought a greatharvest ofbrilliant imagesand discourses to modern verse. 41. PB. Youngstown State University NOTES 150. PB. 95) The structure of this opening sentenceof "Deep ReligiousFaith" could easilybe inverted-placing "it is vain" in the first line. 153." Similarly.rhetoricalquestions. (PB. 101. 49." Nor is it certainthatWilliams ever got to the "root. "it" in line 22. 144) force readers to see objects and ideas freshly." New Review 1 (June-July1931): 914 Williamsand Logical Syntax . also intensifies and focussesthe reader'sattention to finda referent thatwould complete the meaning. theremote borders beyond ofpoetry itself ifit does notdriveus. "beyondthe remoteborders /ofpoetryitself' in the thirdand fourth lines. "Our Contemporaries and Others. itis vain. 1 Ezra Pound. his syntaxsuspended the linearunwinding oftimein poetry and helped to breakthe hold of logical syntax on modernverse. exclamations.

he died in 1908. John C. Pa. The poems quoted fromPictures from Brueghel are Copyright (? 1955 by William Carlos Williams. ed. 12 William James. Imaginations (New York: New Directions. 2 vols. 4 Russell. 1969). 1969). 16 Vivienne Koch says Williams "often expressed his appreciation of Art as Experience. and Co. 3 Bertrand Russell. 9 Alfred Sidgewick. 1962). note 2. The Embodiment of Knowledge. Excerpts from previously unpublished letters of William Carlos Williams Copyright (? 1987 by William Eric Williams and Paul H. (New York: Norton. 8-9. & World. used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 1966). 2nd ed. 150. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (Lancaster." in The Early Works (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UniversityPress. 1938). 17 Addendum to a letter to Kenneth Burke. 1970). 11William James. Karl Shapiro (New York: Harper & Row. Green. The Tyranny of Words (New York: Harcourt. PatrickMoore 915 . Williams. Knowledge. 15 Williams's work is quoted fromthe followingeditions which are parenthetically cited by their abbreviations in the text. Selected Essays (New York: New Directions. The Principles of Psychology. knew of Dewey's work in The Dial long before he read Art as Experience. Thirlwall (New York: McDowell. A Pluralistic Universe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. February 25.: Science Press Printing Co.. "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry. The Principle of Relativity with Application to Physical Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1967). The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams.2 John Dewey. The poems quoted fromWilliams' Collected Earlier Poems are Copyright (C 1938 by William Carlos Williams. Pictures from Brueghel (New York: New Directions. 14. 1920). 261. Whitehead. 8 Bertrand Russell.." in Prose Keys to Modern Poetry. Knowledge. The Analysis of Matter (New York: Harcourt. (Cambridge: Harvard UniversityPress. 67. 1933). "The Present Position of Logical Theory. "Remarks on Spenser's Definition of Mind as Correspondence. 3:127. 1947. Pennsylvania.." in her William Carlos Williams (Norfolk:New Directions. 1929). 1963). Paterson (New York: New Directions. 1974). The precise date of Fenollosa's essay is unknown. 1901). Obolensky. Williams refersto Whitehead's Science and the Modern World in SL. Stuart Chase. in the Burke Collection at the Pattee Library of The Pennsylvania State University. The Use of Words in Reasoning (London: Adam and Charles Black. 2:1243. of course. 1981). 113." in Collected Essays and Reviews (New York: Longman's. 1962). 17. 79. All poems are reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. ed. 5 Alfred Korzybski. 43. 6 William James. 96. 1950). agents. ed. The Collected Later Poems of William Carlos Williams (New York: New Directions. 239. Williams. 13 James. Our Knowledge of the External World. Universe. 1922). University Park. CEP CLP EK I P PB SE SL The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams (New York: New Directions. Brace. 10 Russell. 42. 1977). Further references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the text. 7 Fenollosa. 14 Alfred N. 1957). Ron Loewinsohn (New York: New Directions. 1927). Brace & Company.

" in Linda Welshimer Wagner. 124-26. 187."3-4. unpublished typescript (C 59).New Jersey:Associated University Presses. 148. The Poems of Williams Carlos Williams (Middletown. William Carlos Williams's Paterson (Cranbury. See Margaret Glynne Lloyd. The Prose of William Carlos Williams (Middletown." in English Institute Essays. 1981). Buffalo. The State Universityof New Yorkat Buffalo. P Dutton. Authors usually do not generalize about Williams's syntax.: Wesleyan UniversityPress. "An Approach to the Poem. Conn. 1964). and the Art of Poetry. 1947 (New York: Columbia University Press. 1970). 159-62. Donald Davie. 1975). William Marling. 57. "America. New York. U. 29. 26 Except for Kenner's chapter in The Pound Era. 23 24 25 Fenollosa."The Poetry Journal. 916 Williamsand Logical Syntax . The Pound Era (Berkeley: University of California Press. The Poetry/Rare Books Collection. Whitman. Cited with the permission of The Poetry/RareBooks Collection. Syntactical and Metrical Structures in the Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Universityof Toronto.141-42. "Syntax in Rutherford" (397-406). 1909-1923 (Athens: Ohio University Press. 1982). 145. "How to Write. 135. S. 21 William Carlos Williams. '9 Rod Townley. 1980). 173. but prefer to focus on the syntaxof one poem (Kenner focusses on "Poem" ["As the cat"]). The Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Ithaca: Cornell UniversityPress. The Imagist Poem (New York: E. 27 William Pratt. William Carlos Williams and the Painters. 183. 30. I do not know of any extended discussions of Williams's syntax. Hugh Kenner. Analyses of Williams' syntax-when they appear at all-are scattered around in the book-length studies of his work.18 "A Few General Correctives to the Present State of American Poetry. Linda Welshimer Wagner. and Eleanor Berry's dissertation. November (1917). Connecticut: Wesleyan UniversityPress. 5. N. 1975). 151-53.Y Buffalo. 139. 1948). Articulate Energy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1971). University Libraries. 403. 22 William Carlos Williams. 20 William Carlos Williams. 1963). 30-31.

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