In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem "Waiting" by William Carlos Williams.

If you find the show valuable and would like to support it, you may subscribe here on the website or via Anchor. Thank you!

Listen

‎Poetry to the Brim: Episode 14: “Waiting” by William Carlos Williams on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Poetry to the Brim, Ep Episode 14: “Waiting” by William Carlos Williams - Jun 23, 2022
Poetry to the Brim - Episode 14: “Waiting” by William Carlos Williams
In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem “Waiting” by William Carlos Williams. --- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/poetrytothebrim/support

Transcript

Hello, you're listening to Poetry to the Brim.

Today I'll be reading the poem "Waiting" by William Carlos Williams. This one can be found in his Collected Poems, published by New Directions [1].

--

"Waiting" by William Carlos Williams

When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed.

Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
must one become stupid
to grow older?
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels.
Let us see, let us see!
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?

–-

From the first line, "When I am alone I am happy," we get the sense the speaker might not be happy when he's with other people, maybe someone in particular. From the tone it's clear that the speaker's attention is with and among nature, having left behind something that's made him unhappy and wanting to be left alone. "The sky is / flecked and splashed and wound with color." There's an interesting homograph shared between the wound in that line (the verb and past participle of "wind") and wound (the noun meaning injury). Even in his description of the sky, the wound of earlier time is still on his unconscious mind if you will. As the title says, he is "waiting" for that wound to pass.

We find that the speaker has gone on a walk outside, having left his house perhaps after an argument with his lover, and feels a sort of peace being alone among the sassafras trees. He's in a state of Sorrow and has elevated the falling leaves above all things in his house. Once he hears the shrieks of his children at the doorstep, he's brought back home—literally and spiritually.

In the second and final stanza, the poem opens up: we can hear from the speaker's tone and word choice a sense of curiosity and play. We have questions and then exclamations such as "Let us see! Let us see!" The speaker compares the falling sassafras leaves he's seen and regrets having elevated them above all else, including his children. The speaker is wise: he knows Sorrow has "tripped him up," he knows his reactions were perhaps "stupid," a feature of growing older maybe and being stuck in one's ways.

After his realization, the poem is left in a state of wonder. The speaker says, "What did I plan to say to her / when it should happen to me / as it has happened now?" I love this ending so much. I love the word "it" used to describe the entire series of events in the poem. It has happened to me, and now what? The divinity of all things has happened, wherein no thing is elevated above other things and all things shall be embraced; wherein Sorrow shall not send one down its dark tunnel. We are left to wonder what might transpire between the speaker and his lover that might resolve the argument—but it's besides the point almost. With the speaker's changed attitude from resisting to embracing experience, we are sure it will happen and we are sure it will all be very dear to him.

--

"Waiting" by William Carlos Williams

When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed.

Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
must one become stupid
to grow older?
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels.
Let us see, let us see!
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?

--

Thanks for listening to Poetry to the Brim. If you enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend or two who might also enjoy it. If you read the poem differently, would like to share your thoughts with me, or just have general suggestions about the show, you can email the show at poetrytothebrim@gmail.com.

Also, you can find a full transcript of the episode on the website at podcast.poetrytothebrim.com. There, you can also subscribe to stay up to date by email for when I release a new episode, as well as find ways to support the show.

Alright. Thanks again! Until next time.

--

Citations

  1. Williams, William Carlos, and Christopher J. MacGowan. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. New Directions, 2001.