Monday, September 15, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: A Revisiting of "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams

The Songs of Eretz MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for September 15, 2014 is "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams.  The poem was first published in 1917 in Williams' collection Al Que Quiere! https://archive.org/details/abookpoemsalque00willgoog.  It is, therefore, in the public domain and legally reprinted here.  A link to an audio recording by the poet may be found here:  https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Williams-WC/05_Emerson-Recording_08-50/Williams-WC_11_Danse-Russe_prod-Emerson_08-50.mp3.  Williams was the Songs of Eretz Poet of the Month for August 2014.  A brief biography and references may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-songs-of-eretz-poet-of-month-for.html,  and a previous examination of "Danse Russe" may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2014/08/poem-of-day-danse-russe-by-william.html.

Danse Russe
William Carlos Williams

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

The influence of Whitman is palpable in Williams' "Danse Russe."  This notion is supported by:  the reckless abandon of the dance described, the poet's admiration of his body and the use of a list to describe it, the use of an exclamatory statement if not apostrophe to address himself, and the use of a flowing, intense, driving form of free verse.  A glaring difference in the presentation is line length--Whitman was famous for his use of long, occasionally rambling lines.  However, if one reads the poem as Williams himself recited it, we have, more or less, this:

If I when my wife is sleeping and the baby and Kathleen are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc in silken mists above shining trees,—
if I in my north room dance naked, grotesquely before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.  I was born to be lonely,  I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face, my shoulders, flanks, buttocks against the yellow drawn shades,—
Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?

Looks like something Whitman might have penned, doesn't it?

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