There are series of three poems from Al Que Quiere! (1917) which concern the same matter of the persons perhaps most likely neglected as objects of poetry. This attention would not be interesting in and of itself today: looking for outcasts, portraying the outcast is sure sign of artistic integrity.
Two of the poems are entitled “Pastoral”, their companion is “Apology”. The first pastoral begins:
When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself
The patter is five – five – eight. The longer line exhausts the idea and makes a bit of closure. What then is the idea: ambition: which ambition is going to contrasted with the wisdom of age:
I walk back streets
How the opposite of ambition. He is not in a place to be seen, here is in backstreets.
Admiring the houses
Of the very poor:
He then lists out the items he sees:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best
of all colors.
Before we come to the conclusion, we are left with a bit of a question: Is he ironic? Not ironic in finding the items visually interesting. There is something visually interesting in decay. Any number of photographers have used such things as either the subject or the backdrop for their images.
But the irony of saying such a color “pleases” him. There is a strange tone in the pastoral subject of poetry were the poet idealizes another’s poverty as a place of serenity and tranquill beauty – away from whatever ambition and hurry has ceased the poet and his world. But we never see the poet volunteer to become poor. (Dickens, to his credit may idealize some poor people, but he does not romanticize poverty per se.)
Is Williams merely finding beauty where it can be found – is it a realization that his ambition is of little good except for beauty? Is there a mocking of the “pastoral”?
He ends with
will believe this
of vast importance to the nation.
What is of no importance? His vision of beauty? The fact that he likes the color? The lives of the poor?
We know that he has gotten something wrong – his early ambition has given way to looking at the poor and seeking beauty in their ramshackle existence.
The next poem, “Apology” may help understand the first (assuming he holds a consistent position).