Confusion, Separation, Isolation, Liberation: A Critical Approach to “Spring and All”

In “The Power of Confusion: Spring and All’s Prose, Poetry, and Poetics” George Hart argues for the necessity of confusion, specifically meaning to combine or merge causing incoherence, within William Carlos William’s Spring and All as a key element within poetic process (19).

By utilizing and combining individual components of Emerson’s poetic philosophy and Poe’s Philosophy of Composition (i.e. confusing them), Hart outlines how Spring and All functions as an exemplar of mixed poetic and composition processes that concludes by distinguishing poetry from prose as an inherent result from the confusion (20).

Spring and All is more about exemplifying a process of coming about this conclusion than it is about existing as a single, unified, and coherent piece of logistical philosophy. To achieve an accurate portrayal of the poet’s process, Williams utilizes Emerson’s overarching goal of poetry combined with Poe’s tools for language to move through four transitional stages within the work (20). Williams and Emerson share the same goal of freeing words, and thus people, from antiquated meaning and contexts that are no longer relevant to the content and subject matter of their contemporary times (21). In order to achieve this goal, however, Williams decides to abandon Emerson’s poetic tools and instead uses Poe’s composition method of divorcing a word from its supposed “organic” or natural meaning (21).

With this goal of freedom of the imagination in mind and equipped with the ability to strip words of their previous meanings and environments, Williams begins Spring and All in a state of confusion, the first stage of his poetic process (21). Hart points to not only the jagged structure of the work, flipping from prose to poetry and back, but also the language Williams incorporates, such as “sluggish,” “dazed,” and “uncertain,” to emphasize the chaos and confusion felt when encountering something new while still viewing it from an old perspective (21). The newness is the reappropriation of spring as a modern term, and the old lens is the Romantic form of poetry and context. The old form of spring is no longer adequate in the modern context, and this is where the confusion stems.

To alleviate the confusion, says Hart, Williams suddenly divorces spring from its previous contexts and Romantic environment (22). This transition to sever the word from meaning, as Poe did in prose, brings Spring and All into the second stage of separation, forcing the word to become alien and disconnected from its origins. This separation almost immediately brings about isolation, the third stage of process (23). This isolation makes the poet and the reader unable to identify with the language, causing a temporary disconnect.

Hart then shows how the element of imagination comes to the rescue and imbues these separated words with new meaning and new direction that connect them in some way without completely destroying the separateness just achieved (23). The imagination thus enters a state of liberation through the creation of new associations, contexts, and environments for the word and for language. This fourth and final stage achieves the initial goal of freeing language and people from antiquated thought (24).

Hart states Williams’ successful use of imagination to connect previously isolated words into a new, distinct form is the difference between poetry and prose (20). Within prose, the language either remains isolated, as with Poe’s works, or becomes too enmeshed that words no longer contain their separate and unique qualities (21). It seems that poetry, for Williams, is when individual words with their distinctive elements working together, push the subject or context into new territory and meaning.

Hart says Williams accomplishes the goal of reappropriating language within Spring and All by moving through these phases and “uses its confusions about romanticism to discover its modernist poetics” (20). 

About Katherine Bartter

Senior Creative Writing major Poli. Sci. minor Cat enthusiast
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One Response to Confusion, Separation, Isolation, Liberation: A Critical Approach to “Spring and All”

  1. Prof VZ says:

    This four-stage movement really helps clarify Williams’s project in SAL for me. Whereas someone line Stein seems comfortable with confusion and separation–not playing up the role of the imagination, at least explicitly, to unite–so much of the energy of Williams comes from that synthesizing movement of the imagination as it seeks new connections. Excellent overview.

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