… “Driven to the wall you’d put claws to your toes and make a ladder of smooth bricks.”
This is from ‘A Poet of the Quattrocento’ written for The Dial found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):
It was Ezra Pound’s conviction some years ago, that there could be “an age of awakening in America” which would “overshadow the quattrocento.” Hopeful for us at that time, “our opportunity is greater than Leonardo’s,” said Mr. Pound; “we have more aliment,” and never really neglectful of us, he has commended in us, “Mr. Williams‘ praiseworthy opacity.”
[line break added] “There is distinctness and color,” he observed, “as was shown in his ‘Postlude,’ in ‘Des Imagistes’; but there is beyond these qualities the absolute conviction of a man with his feet on the soil, on a soil personally and peculiarly his own. He is rooted. He is at times almost inarticulate, but he is never dry, never without sap in abundance.”
This metaphor of the tree seems highly appropriate to William Carlos Williams — who writes of seedling sycamores, of walnuts and willows — who several years ago, himself seemed to W.C. Blum “by all odds the hardiest specimen in these parts.” In his modestly emphatic respect for America he corroborates Henry James’ conviction that young people should “stick fast and sink up to their necks in everything their own countries and climates can give,” and his feeling for the place lends poetic authority to an illusion of ours, that sustenance may be found here, which is adapted to artists.
[line break added] Imagination can profit by a journey, acquainting itself with everything pertaining to its wish that it can gather from European sources, Doctor Williams says. But it is apparent to him that “American plumbing, American bridges, indexing systems, locomotives, printing presses, city buildings, farm implements and a thousand other things” are liked and used, and it is not folly to hope that the very purest works of the imagination may also be found among us.
[line break added] Doctor Williams is in favor of escape from “strained associations,” from “shallowness,” from such substitutes as “congoleum — building paper with a coating of enamel.” The staying at home principle could not, he is sure, be a false one where there is vigorous living force with buoyancy of imagination — as there was apparently in Shakespeare — the artist’s excursion being into “perfection” and “technical excellence.”
[line break added] “Such names as Homer, the blind; Scheherazade, who lived under threat — their compositions have as their excellence, an identity with life since they are as actual, sappy as the leaf of the tree which never moves from one spot.” He has visited places and studied various writings and a traveler can as Bacon says, “prick in some flowers of that he hath learned abroad.” In the man, however, Doctor Williams‘ topics are American — crowds at the movies
with the closeness and
universality of sand,
turkey nests, mushrooms among the fir trees, mist rising from the duck pond, the ball game:
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing
… He is rightly imaginative in not attempting to decide; or rather, in deciding not to attempt to say how wrong these readers are, who find his poems unbeautiful or “positively repellant.” As he had previously asked, “Where does this downhill turn up again? Driven to the wall you’d put claws to your toes and make a ladder of smooth bricks.”