Biography Information: William Carlos Williams was born on September 17, 1883 in Rutherford, New Jersey. He wrote poetry while attending Horace Mann High School. After high school, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he got his MD and became friends with Ezra Pound, another famous poet. Ezra Pound was a big influence on Williams's writing, even helping Williams publish some of his work. He then kept up his medical practice in Rutherford and began publishing in small magazines and built his career as a poet, novelist, and playwright. His works grew more attention in the 1950's and 1960's by younger poets who were impressed by him. Williams began to decline after a heart attack and a series of strokes, but he kept writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963.
How His Life Affected His Poetry: Williams heavily drew inspiration for his poems from his life. The Great Figure was a real experience that Williams had and decided to write about. One day, he heard the bells and sounds of a firetruck passing by. He looked towards it and saw a golden number 5 on the side of it. It seemed to leave a heavy impression on him, so he took out a piece of paper and wrote The Great Figure. He also drew ideas from his day-to-day patients that came to him at his practice. He used almost all of his surrounding to come up with plots, characters, settings, and anything else he could conjure up.
Modernist Poetry Time Period: The Modernist period in history was affected by major events, such as World War I, The Depression and the New Deal, and World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Holocaust. The values and ideas that grew in the Modernist time period were the disillusion of old ideas and ideals, wider cultural awareness, and the stress of modern urban life causing uncertainty. How Modernism Affected the Author: Ezra Pound was a big influence for Williams, but he did not like Pound's attachment to European culture and traditions in his works. This caused Williams to decide to invent a new and American form of writing. He wanted to focus on the everyday life and events of common people.
Comparative Poems: Williams also wrote a poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, has some similarities to The Great Figure. One such similarity is his use of giving the reader a visual experience with his poetry. He likes to focus on describing what you as the reader should be seeing when reading his work. In The Great Figure, he compares the golden figure five to the red firetruck it is on. In The Red Wheelbarrow, he compares the red wheelbarrow to the white chickens that are beside it. Other similarities include his use of free verse and rain as a part of the setting. Another poem to compare is A Long Song, also by Williams. The similarities in this poem also have to do with colors and the sense of sight. He compares the stain of love, yellow, to the complementary purple sky. He says "See me!" Then describes his appearance with his hair dripping in nectar against his black wings. He likes to use free verse, contrasting colors, and imagery in his poetry.
Common Themes: The common themes in Williams's works are versions of reality and dealing with time. William's works all have a way of setting a certain pace of time, which is due to the way Williams sets up the structure of his poems. In The Great Figure, the firetruck passes the speaker by, the poem lines get shorter, giving the reader more of a slow motion feel as a way of slowing time down. In The Red Wheelbarrow, it is almost like time is moving on without man. All there is is a red wheelbarrow and chickens, but is time really passing if no one is there to experience it? Lastly, The Love Song deals with time because he is thinking about her. When someone is deep in thought, time doesn't seem to pass, though it passes very fast. It is hard to determine the amount of time passing in this poem because it is in his mind.
Link to The Love Song by William Carlos Williams: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/love-song
Link to The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/red-wheelbarrow
Citations: Shmoop Editorial Team. The Great Figure by William Carlos Williams. Shmoop. Shmoop University. Web. 14 April, 2017.
William Carlos Williams. Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Web. 14 April, 2017.