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from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" Analysis

Author: poem of William Carlos Williams Type: poem Views: 10

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Of asphodel, that greeny flower,

          like a buttercup

                    upon its branching stem-

save that it's green and wooden-

          I come, my sweet,

                    to sing to you.

We lived long together

          a life filled,

                    if you will,

with flowers.  So that

          I was cheered

                    when I came first to know

that there were flowers also

          in hell.


I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers

          that we both loved,

                    even to this poor

colorless thing-

          I saw it

                    when I was a child-

little prized among the living

          but the dead see,

                    asking among themselves:

What do I remember

          that was shaped

                    as this thing is shaped?

while our eyes fill

          with tears.

                    Of love, abiding love

it will be telling

          though too weak a wash of crimson

                    colors it

to make it wholly credible.

          There is something

                    something urgent

I have to say to you

          and you alone

                    but it must wait

while I drink in

          the joy of your approach,

                    perhaps for the last time.

And so

          with fear in my heart

                    I drag it out

and keep on talking

          for I dare not stop.

                    Listen while I talk on

against time.

          It will not be

                    for long.

I have forgot

          and yet I see clearly enough


central to the sky

          which ranges round it.

                    An odor

springs from it!

          A sweetest odor!

                    Honeysuckle!  And now

there comes the buzzing of a bee!

          and a whole flood

                    of sister memories!

Only give me time,

          time to recall them

                    before I shall speak out.

Give me time,


When I was a boy

          I kept a book

                    to which, from time

to time,

          I added pressed flowers

                    until, after a time,

I had a good collection.

          The asphodel,


among them.

          I bring you,


a memory of those flowers.

          They were sweet

                    when I pressed them

and retained

          something of their sweetness

                    a long time.

It is a curious odor,

          a moral odor,

                    that brings me

near to you.

          The color

                    was the first to go.

There had come to me

          a challenge,

                    your dear self,

mortal as I was,

          the lily's throat

                    to the hummingbird!

Endless wealth,

          I thought,

                    held out its arms to me.

A thousand tropics

          in an apple blossom.

                    The generous earth itself

gave us lief.

          The whole world

                    became my garden!

But the sea

          which no one tends

                    is also a garden

when the sun strikes it

          and the waves

                    are wakened.

I have seen it

          and so have you

                    when it puts all flowers

to shame.

          Too, there are the starfish

                    stiffened by the sun

and other sea wrack

          and weeds.  We knew that

                    along with the rest of it

for we were born by the sea,

          knew its rose hedges

                    to the very water's brink.

There the pink mallow grows

          and in their season


and there, later,

          we went to gather

                    the wild plum.

I cannot say

          that I have gone to hell

                    for your love

but often

          found myself there

                    in your pursuit.

I do not like it

          and wanted to be

                    in heaven.  Hear me out.

Do not turn away.

I have learned much in my life

          from books

                    and out of them

about love.


                    is not the end of it.

There is a hierarchy

          which can be attained,

                    I think,

in its service.

          Its guerdon

                    is a fairy flower;

a cat of twenty lives.

          If no one came to try it

                    the world

would be the loser.

          It has been

                    for you and me

as one who watches a storm

          come in over the water.

                    We have stood

from year to year

          before the spectacle of our lives

                    with joined hands.

The storm unfolds.


                    plays about the edges of the clouds.

The sky to the north

          is placid,

                    blue in the afterglow

as the storm piles up.

          It is a flower

                    that will soon reach

the apex of its bloom.

          We danced,

                    in our minds,

and read a book together.

          You remember?

                    It was a serious book.

And so books

          entered our lives.

The sea!  The sea!


                    when I think of the sea

there comes to mind

          the Iliad

                    and Helen's public fault

that bred it.

          Were it not for that

                    there would have been

no poem but the world

          if we had remembered,

                    those crimson petals

spilled among the stones,

          would have called it simply


The sexual orchid that bloomed then

          sending so many


men to their graves

          has left its memory

                    to a race of fools

or heroes

          if silence is a virtue.

                    The sea alone

with its multiplicity

          holds any hope.

                    The storm

has proven abortive

          but we remain

                    after the thoughts it roused


          re-cement our lives.

                    It is the mind

the mind

          that must be cured

                    short of death's


          and the will becomes again

                    a garden.  The poem

is complex and the place made

          in our lives

                    for the poem.

Silence can be complex too,

          but you do not get far

                    with silence.

Begin again.

          It is like Homer's

                    catalogue of ships:

it fills up the time.

          I speak in figures,

                    well enough, the dresses

you wear are figures also,

          we could not meet

                    otherwise.  When I speak

of flowers

          it is to recall

                    that at one time

we were young.

          All women are not Helen,

                    I know that,

but have Helen in their hearts.

          My sweet,

                    you have it also, therefore

I love you

          and could not love you otherwise.

                    Imagine you saw

a field made up of women

          all silver-white.

                    What should you do

but love them?

          The storm bursts

                    or fades!  it is not

the end of the world.

          Love is something else,

                    or so I thought it,

a garden which expands,

          though I knew you as a woman

                    and never thought otherwise,

until the whole sea

          has been taken up

                    and all its gardens.

It was the love of love,

          the love that swallows up all else,

                    a grateful love,

a love of nature, of people,

          of animals,

                    a love engendering

gentleness and goodness

          that moved me

                    and that I saw in you.

I should have known,

          though I did not,

                    that the lily-of-the-valley

is a flower makes many ill

          who whiff it.

                    We had our children,

rivals in the general onslaught.

          I put them aside

                    though I cared for them.

as well as any man

          could care for his children

                    according to my lights.

You understand

          I had to meet you

                    after the event

and have still to meet you.


                    to which you too shall bow

along with me-

          a flower

                    a weakest flower

shall be our trust

          and not because

                    we are too feeble

to do otherwise

          but because

                    at the height of my power

I risked what I had to do,

          therefore to prove

                    that we love each other

while my very bones sweated

          that I could not cry to you

                    in the act.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,

          I come, my sweet,

                    to sing to you!

My heart rouses

          thinking to bring you news

                    of something

that concerns you

          and concerns many men.  Look at

                    what passes for the new.

You will not find it there but in

          despised poems.

                    It is difficult

to get the news from poems

          yet men die miserably every day

                    for lack

of what is found there.

          Hear me out

                    for I too am concerned

and every man

          who wants to die at peace in his bed



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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: :.

Though this poem seems to be about a flower, the flower is, in fact, a simile for William Carlos Williams (the writter)'s wife Florence Herman and how things were when they were young.

| Posted on 2010-03-30 | by a guest

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