Poem by William Carlos Williams: Summary and Analysis

William Carlos William, an American imagist poet has depicted the complexities that a poet goes through while writing a poem in this poem “Poem”. The poem entitled “Poem” is a meta poem as it talks about how a poem should be. Most of his poems are about the description that creates images: mental, visual and sometimes auditory. The poem is about a poem which is also called a meta-poem.

William C. Williams (1883-1963)

William compares cat with poet metaphorically to display what a poet should be like and how a simple-looking subject matter can arouse a great meaning. This poem avoids the traditional style of versification such as the ones practised in England and rather emphasizes the use of matter-of-fact kind of words instead of elevated or economic words.

The poem is an extended metaphor. Cat is a metaphor for a creative person's actions becoming an analogical creative process of human beings. Although the poem is about the motion and a casual moment of a domesticated animal: cat, here the poet is trying to show the potentiality of uniquely American art and evokes the picture to convey ideas. The poem consists of four tercets: three lines on each stanza in which each portrays the movement of the cat. It has nothing deeper or philosophical insights in its words but a mere description of how a cat jumps up and lands on the pot. The first stanza depicts the cat's act of climbing on the top and the second stanza finds the cat taking a careful swap of his first foot whereas the third stanza gives us the visual of the cat stepping carefully down into the empty flower pot in the fourth stanza. It's a metaphorical trick that William plays to show how empty America is artistically like an empty flower pot and the American poets should stop flocking into England for so-called ideas but fill it up with uniqueness like a cat steps down in the empty pot.

The poet is explicitly describing the cat which is trying to climb into Jams closet in search of something. The description of the cat creates an image of a character. The cautious walking of the cat over those things provides an image of the mood, motion, and rhythm of its walk. It is cautiously walking over those things as if it is searching for something important but it does not receive what he intended when we look at it in the literal sense.

Prominently, the cat is exactly like a poet, it goes off the observation but doesn't seem as if it is searching for something. The way the cat in the poem doesn't look for profit even though it was aware of the trouble we humans also must have a goal in life. The actions we chose in our life might look futile but the actions have meaning within them. .

Analysis of the Poem

This poem is a meta-poem composed of four stanzas consisting of three lines in each. It is very short or minimalistic as the poet has used a minimum number of words. The poem expresses the heavy philosophical insight by using images as well as the words in the economy. As an imagist, Williams uses image or symbol as his prominent tool to convey the idea. He is also famous for his saying, "No ideas but in things. " The poem seems to have been composed to revolt against the tradition-of writing formal lyrical poems in the past which focused more on ideas in the poem. The poem is a simple assortment of jumbles of words on the surface. But it gives an intellectual idea, He uses the image of "cat", a very intellectual and clever domestic animal that climbs over the top of the "jam closet. " The symbol of cat, used in the poem “Poem” is to indicate poet’s contemporaries who always run after the great ideas intended in poetry.

Similarly, "jam closet" may refer to the ideas that the poets of that time wanted to achieve as the cat does in the poem. The climbing over the top of the jam closet with the first right forefoot indicates the then poets' attempt to 'hove' to England in the search of great-poetic ideas and trends. The adverb, "carefully" represents their seeming consciousness in their goal.

However, the cat stepped down into the pit of the empty flowerpot. It indicates the fact that the poets who always run after the great poetic ideas, trends or conventions were criticized later by the imagist poets like the poet. Williams is trying to show the failure of the idealistic poets' ambition through the symbol of the cat's pointless ambition. Here, the passionate cat for the jam closet remains unsuccessful to get it; its attempt is so futile. The poem consists of loads of images than ideas because of the Imagist Movement that insists more on image than ideas. Here, "empty flower pot" can be the symbol of America which was empty in art due to the migration of most of the poets to England. However, it was later filled with artistic works of the imagists again as the cat stepped down into the pit of the empty flowerpot. This can be the one interpretation of the poem if we analyze it this way.

But if interpreted from another point of view, it has different meanings. The poet's intention to write this poem also may show the brilliancy of the poets or artists in the poem as well as in any kind of art. In other words, the poet may intend to say that a poet or an artist has the capability to present things in an extraordinary way. A poet or an artist can depict things in a unique way. It means only the poet or artists can do impossible things in an easy way. The way Williams is able to put the cat into the flowerpot is quite unprecedented because they are two distinct objects; they have no relationship in reality. The poet brings these two distinct things together by using his wit and knowledge. Being a famous imagist poet, he presents the impossible matter in an easy way. So, the poet seems to glorify the power of image or picture in the work of art. The cat in the flowerpot resembles the meaning of life.

Williams is critical to the conventional notions of writing poetry one way and he is also glorifying the power of image in art or poetry in another way. He symbolically satirizes those poets (his precedents in literary work), who gave more value to the ideas. The poet providing higher insistence on the power glorifies the power of poets who can represent life and the world in different ways. Therefore, the poem reveals the significant meaning of life inherent in the work of art.