In his poem, ‘The Widow’s Lament to Summer’, William Carlos Williams explores themes of mortality, the fleeting beauty of life and emotional attachment through the perspective of a recently widowed woman. Through limited descriptive techniques and reversed associations and metaphor, Williams presents an ironic and highly emotional depiction of life after the death of a loved one.
Throughout the poem Williams notably restrains the form of the poem so as to emphasize a sense of loss or grief. The lines, for example, never have more than seven words and regularly include enjambment, limited caesura and a lack of punctuation beyond commas and full stops. By limiting line length Williams creates a compact space of emotion and memory with little digression from the central image, presenting an almost imagist style scene. The simple punctuation, enjambment and infrequent use of caesura creates a sense that the reader is viewing the direct thoughts of the widow, almost in a stream of consciousness type style. By providing the reader with the direct thoughts and emotions of the widow Williams heightens the personal impact of the language by providing it with an almost confessional tone, uninterrupted by pause or editing. Through form Williams create a poem that allows the reader to see into the thoughts of a totally distressed individual, heightening realism through avoiding digression and unnecessary intrusion.
Williams creates images within the poem that are often ironic and by doing so reverses the reader’s expectations. The widow’s grief, for example, is caused by her garden entering bloom in springtime, a period usually associated with rebirth and joy. The opening image, for example, of “Sorrow is my own yard / where the new grass / flames as it had flamed / often before” presents the contrasting images of sorrow to the rebirth of grass that is so naturally powerful it is described as coming out in “flames”. The intensity of nature, however, has had a changed meaning for the widow following the death of her husband. The flaming grass may have once signified passion and happiness but now it creates a “a cold fire / that closes round [her] this year.” This “cold fire” doesn’t mean that the intensity of the nature surrounding the widow has gone, merely it has taken on a new meaning, shedding the happiness it once symbolized and instead become a signal of grief and loneliness.
Despite this new association, however, the widow still holds a connection to nature, always forming a link between it and her husband. The white flowers of the plum tree in her garden, for example, create a sense of grief within her due to the fact that she associates them directly with her husband and thus cannot enjoy them fully as she once did. “Today [she will] notice them / and turn away forgetting” shows how she is now incapable of viewing them from a wholly enjoyable perspective. White flowers from outside her garden, however, create a different feeling within the widow. While when in her garden she rejects the flowers the ones on the “edge of the heavy woods / in the distance” are received with jubilation, even to the extent that she feels a need to “fall into those flowers”. By placing these flowers on “the edge of the heavy woods” Williams creates the sense that she is distancing herself from the tame, cultivated world she created with her husband and venturing towards the unknown, possibly life after death. This suggests that she wishes to be as close to her husband as possible, further shown by her wish to fall into the flowers near the woods, placing an emphasis on their life in the present or future and thus providing some explanation to her rejection of the flowers within her garden.
The widow’s attachment to her husband is not fully explored, Williams offering no more that the statement “Thirty-five years / I lived with my husband.” It is through her sense of loss, however, rather than her declaration of devotion that we understand how great the level of her love for him was. Williams, however, makes this no easy thing for the reader to achieve. The only explanation for the present relationship between the narrator and the husband, for example, is not given in the body of the poem itself but only by the inclusion of the word “Widow” in the title. Nowhere in the poem does the narrator state or even imply “My husband is dead.” The focus of the poem, therefore, is not the narrator understanding the death of her husband or exploring the nature of death, but simply the level of attachment she feels towards him and how great her sense of loss is. It is how absent happiness is that shows us how much there once was.
A central idea to the poem is the changing association we have with things as time passes and our lives change. Throughout the poem the widow acknowledges how her garden in springtime bloom once created feelings of joy, Williams emphasizing the use of past tense. The grass, for example, “has flamed often before” and the flowers on her bushes “were [her] joy / formerly”. The widow associates her garden with the past and he deceased husband has, in many ways, become an element of her past. The flowers near the woods, however, are part of her present as it was “Today [her] son told [her]”. This separation of past and present shows how Williams feels the need to show how death, at least for the widow, is something which cannot be rejected or ignored. Everything reminds her of her husband in some way or another, therefore making his death inescapable. Her only way to succeed from such attachments into move on and create something new for herself.
In his poem “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” William Carlos Williams creates a portrait of the individual’s psyche when coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Offering little in moral lessons or understanding how to cope with death, Williams rather simply presents the aftermath of death as it is, crushing and inescapable. The widow never truly moves past her husband’s death, but simply attempts to carry on with her life as best she can, even if it is constantly haunted by the absence of her husband.