I first heard of Williams Carlos Williams in 1991. I was a student at UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and taking a Modern Poetry class with an instructor who helped cement the love of poetry in my life (Dr. Sylvia Morris).
The first poem I read of Williams' was "The Red Wheelbarrow" and thought it was absolute garbage. Then I read other works of his and continued to not understand why anyone thought highly of his poetry. Then, about a month later, I was at home and begin to read his work aloud. My opinions changed immediately and I began to read more and more of his poems and really enjoyed them.
I chose "Tract", the poem below, to analyze for my final paper for the class. I wrote 8 pages of commentary and - after the semester, Dr. Morris asked if she could teach from my paper the following semester.
During my research for my paper, I learned several of Williams' friends - many of them fellow poets - did their best to re-create "Tract" during his funeral in 1963. They dressed simply and celebrated Williams' life. I've always viewed their efforts as the ultimate tribute to a wonderful friend and amazing poet.
I WILL teach you my townspeople how to perform a funeral for you have it over a troop of artists-- unless one should scour the world-- you have the ground sense necessary.
See! the hearse leads. I begin with a design for a hearse. For Christ's sake not black-- nor white either--and not polished! Let it be weathered--like a farm wagon-- with gilt wheels (this could be applied fresh at small expense) or no wheels at all: a rough dray to drag over the ground.
Knock the glass out! My God--glass, my townspeople! For what purpose? Is it for the dead to look out or for us to see how well he is housed or to see the flowers or the lack of them-- or what? To keep the rain and snow fom him? He will have a heavier rain soon: pebbles and dirt and what not. Let there be no glass-- and no upholstery, phew! and no little brass rollers and small easy wheels on the bottom-- my townspeople what are you thinking of? A rough plain hearse then with gilt wheels and no top at all. On this the coffin lies by its own weight.
No wreaths please-- especially no hot house flowers. Some common memento is better, something he prized and is known by: his old clothes--a few books perhaps-- God knows what! You realize how we are about these things my townspeople-- something will be found--anything even flowers if he had come to that. So much for the hearse.
For heaven's sake though see to the driver! Take off the silk hat! In fact that's no place at all for him-- up there unceremoniously dragging our friend out to his own dignity! Bring him down--bring him down! Low and inconspicuous! I'd not have him ride on the wagon at all--damn him-- the undertaker's understrapper! Let him hold the reins and walk at the side and inconspicuously too!
Then briefly as to yourselves: Walk behind--as they do in france, seventh class, or if you ride Hell take curtains! Go with some show of inconvenience; sit openly-- to the weather as to grief. Or do you think you can shut grief in? What--from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? Share with us share with us--it will be money in your pockets. Go now I think you are ready.
- William Carlos Williams