In Intention

Williams writes that both poetry and prose “move centrifugally and centripetally towards the intelligence” (145). His differentiation between poetry and prose does not depend on the “external, surface appearance” (144), but instead on “the fact of a separarte origin for each, each using similar modes for dis-similar purposes” (144). Besides claiming a different origin for each, he writes that “prose and poetry are not by any means the same IN INTENTION” (140); in addition, when writing about the work of Moore, he claims that her poetry “has the purpose of poetry written into and therefore it is poetry…[she writes] with a single purpose out of a single fountain” (145).

Origin, intention, purpose, fountain — these ideas define the difference. “The practical point would be to discover –” (145), then, the characteristics of their separate origins and how this is manifested in the words themselves. Throughout “Spring and All”, Williams attempts to discover, articualte, and illustrate their characteristics. In a sense, the collection is a way of writing into origins and purposefully in intention.

This “writing into” does not occur until after Williams has stated the problem, attacked symbolism, defined nature, and established the metaphysical, ethical, and aesthetic foundations for his project (all the requisites for a modernist aesthetic). He begins with a struggle for definitions:

“prose has to do with the fact of an emotion; poetry has to do with the dynamization of emotion into a separate form. This is the force of imagination.
prose: statement of facts concerning emotions, intellectual states, data of all sorts — technical expositions, jargon, of all sorts — fictional and other —
poetry: new form dealt with as a reality in itself.
The form of prose is the accuracy of its subject matter — how best to expose the multiform phases of its material
the form of poetry is related to the movements of the imagination revealed in words” (133).

The sketch is clear; prose is statement and exposition of facts concerning the emotions and the intellect; poetry is the dynamization, through the imagination, of reality itself. “The cleavage is complete” (133). But the definition becomes further articulated:

“Prose, relieved of extraneous, unrelated values must return to its only purpose; to clarify to enlighten the understanding. There is no form to prose but that which depends on clarity. If prose is not accurately adjusted to the exposition of facts it does not exist — Its form is that alone. To penetrate everywhere with enlightenment —
Poetry is something quite different. Poetry has to do with the crystallization of the imagination — the perfection of new forms as additions to nature — ” (140).

The cleavage between enlightenment and crystallization is one of intention and origin. Williams establishes a purity of purpose for both poetry and prose. In his final “dialectics of difference”, he writes: “I can go no further than to say that poetry feeds the imagination and prose the emotions, poetry liberates the words from their emotional implications, prose confirms them in it” (145). This is as far as he can go — quite a distance from his first articulation — a remarkable discovery that blossoms the values he attempts to purify for the new spring.

The differentiating cleavage is complete; the cleavage “goes through all the phases of experience. It is the jump from prose to the process of imagination that is the next great leap of the intelligence — from the simulations of present experience to the facts of the imagination […] the jump between fact and the imaginative reality” (134-5). “Spring and All” enacts the jump between the originary fountains of poetry and prose. The reader witnesses and makes “the next great leap of the intelligence”
and enters “a new world, and [has] there freedom of movement and newness” (134).

But there is a further liberation that occurs as a result of the binding cleavage between poetry and prose. Williams claims that “the writer of imagination would find himself released from observing things for the purpose of writing them down later. He would be there to enjoy, to tasts, to engage the free world…a world detached from the necessity of recording it, sufficient to itself, removed from him with which he has bitter and delicious relations and from which he is independent — moving at will from one thing to another — as he pleases, unbound — complete
and the unique proof of this is the work of the imagination…transfused with the same forces which transfuse the earth…nature is the hint to composition…because it possesses the quality of independent existence, of reality which we feel in ourselves” (121).

This detachment, created through the imagination (the poetic act), creates freedom. In his formula, if we replace “world” with “word” we get: “a word detached from the necessity of recording…sufficient to itself.” This substitution gives us insight into the connection between poetry and the world. It also sheds light on Williams’ idea that poetry liberates the word (and world): “The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognizant of whole — aware” (102). The value of the imagination “consists in its ability to make words. Its unique power is to give created forms reality, actual existence” (120). And finally, poetry perfects “new forms as additions to nature” (140).

Poetry is not “realism” but reality itself. In “Spring and All”, the poems are “additions to nature” — in a sense, they are the blossoms of the new spring — not representations of blossoming in a symbolic spring, but spring blossoms in “actual existence”. We can extend the title: “Spring and All its Poems as Actual Blossoms in Reality” (a terrible title, i know).

There remains a glaring question, though: how does the poem “make” words into “additions to nature”? If words are to be actual, how do words possess what nature possesses, which is “independent existence”? And how does the prose play into this?

Williams argues that “Words occur in liberation by virtue of [imagination’s] processes. In description words adhere to certain objects…[the imagination] is rightly understood when…words are related not to their sense as objects adherent…but as a dance over the body of [the] condition accurately accompanying it…To understand the words as so liberated is to understand poetry. That they move independently when set free is the mark of their value” (149). Because the imagination is not “description nor an evocation of objects or situations”, words made by “the writer of imagination” do not possess the necessity to adhere to objects, description, situations, and prescribed values — thus words are liberated and possess “independent existence” allowing them to dance as new spring blossoms, as “birds’ wings beat the solid air without which none could fly so words freed by the imagination affirm reality by their flight” (150).

I read the “without which none could fly” as referring not to the wings, but to the “solid air”. WIlliams does not “believe that writing is music” or that writing would gain “in quality or force by seeking to attain to the conditions of music” — the conditions which would predicate the poem being “completely liberated” (150), a “pure art”. If poetry becomes a “pure art”, it would no longer beat against “the solid air” (reality itself) — and, as WIlliams warns: “Imagination is not to avoid reality” (149). He further articulates this position:

“The writer of imagination would attain closest to the conditions of music not when his words are disassociated from natural objects and specified meanings but when they are liberated from the usual quality of that meaning by transposition into another medium, the imagination” (150).

The word “transposition” returns us to the original strain of this blog: the cleavage between prose and poetry. In “Spring and All”, the prose sections “confirm” words in their “adherence”, while the poetry liberates the words from their adherence and by their flight, their dance above the prose, “affirm” reality. The prose is the “solid air”, without which the poetry could not attain their reality. This idea is enigmatically articualed in the last paragraph of “Spring and All”:

“The word is not liberated, therefore able to communicate release from the fixities which destroy it until it is accurately tuned to the fact which giving it reality, by its own reality establishes its own freedom from the necessity of a word, thus freeing it and dynamizing it at the same time” (150).

Prose illustrates that the word is not liberated. Because the word is not liberated, it is able to communicate its release from the adherences that destroy it. It does this (struggles to break free from prose — this is illustrated in the fact that quite often the prose stops mid sentence, or begins to lose its hold on the words) until it is tuned to the fact of the imagination, which gives it reality. This reality establishes freedom in poetry (the “jump” from prose to poetry as “the next great step of the intelligence”) and freedom from the necessity of a word to adhere — and the dynamization of the word — a “revivification of value” enacted throughout “Spring and All” by the “cleavage” and “jumps” between poetry and prose, between adherence and liberation, between the writer of enlightenment and the writer of imagination, between solid air and wings.


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