'from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"' by William Carlos Williams

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Of asphodel, that greeny flower,like a buttercupupon its branching stem-
save that it's green and wooden-I come, my sweet,to sing to you.
We lived long togethera life filled,if you will,
with flowers.So thatI was cheeredwhen I came first to know
that there were flowers alsoin hell.Today
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowersthat we both loved,even to this poor
colorless thing-I saw itwhen I was a child-
little prized among the livingbut the dead see,asking among themselves:
What do I rememberthat was shapedas this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fillwith tears.Of love, abiding love
it will be tellingthough too weak a wash of crimsoncolors it
to make it wholly credible.There is somethingsomething urgent
I have to say to youand you alonebut it must wait
while I drink inthe joy of your approach,perhaps for the last time.
And sowith fear in my heartI drag it out
and keep on talkingfor I dare not stop.Listen while I talk on
against time.It will not befor long.
I have forgotand yet I see clearly enoughsomething
central to the skywhich ranges round it.An odor
springs from it!A sweetest odor!Honeysuckle!And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!and a whole floodof sister memories!
Only give me time,time to recall thembefore I shall speak out.
Give me time,time.
When I was a boyI kept a bookto which, from time
to time,I added pressed flowersuntil, after a time,
I had a good collection.The asphodel,forebodingly,
among them.I bring you,reawakened,
a memory of those flowers.They were sweetwhen I pressed them
and retainedsomething of their sweetnessa long time.
It is a curious odor,a moral odor,that brings me
near to you.The colorwas the first to go.
There had come to mea challenge,your dear self,
mortal as I was,the lily's throatto the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,I thought,held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropicsin an apple blossom.The generous earth itself
gave us lief.The whole worldbecame my garden!
But the seawhich no one tendsis also a garden
when the sun strikes itand the wavesare wakened.
I have seen itand so have youwhen it puts all flowers
to shame.Too, there are the starfishstiffened by the sun
and other sea wrackand weeds.We knew thatalong with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,knew its rose hedgesto the very water's brink.
There the pink mallow growsand in their seasonstrawberries
and there, later,we went to gatherthe wild plum.
I cannot saythat I have gone to hellfor your love
but oftenfound myself therein your pursuit.
I do not like itand wanted to bein heaven.Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my lifefrom booksand out of them
about love.Deathis not the end of it.
There is a hierarchywhich can be attained,I think,
in its service.Its guerdonis a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.If no one came to try itthe world
would be the loser.It has beenfor you and me
as one who watches a stormcome in over the water.We have stood
from year to yearbefore the spectacle of our liveswith joined hands.
The storm unfolds.Lightningplays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the northis placid,blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.It is a flowerthat 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 booksentered our lives.
The sea!The sea!Alwayswhen I think of the sea
there comes to mindthe Iliadand Helen's public fault
that bred it.Were it not for thatthere would have beenno poem but the worldif we had remembered,those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,would have called it simplymurder.
The sexual orchid that bloomed thensending so manydisinterested
men to their graveshas left its memoryto a race of fools
or heroesif silence is a virtue.The sea alone
with its multiplicityholds any hope.The storm
has proven abortivebut we remainafter the thoughts it roused
tore-cement our lives.It is the mind
the mindthat must be curedshort of death's
intervention,and the will becomes againa garden.The poem
is complex and the place madein our livesfor the poem.
Silence can be complex too,but you do not get farwith silence.
Begin again.It is like Homer'scatalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.I speak in figures,well enough, the dresses
you wear are figures also,we could not meetotherwise.When I speak
of flowersit is to recallthat 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 youand could not love you otherwise.Imagine you saw
a field made up of womenall silver-white.What should you do
but love them?The storm burstsor 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 womanand never thought otherwise,
until the whole seahas been taken upand 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 goodnessthat moved meand that I saw in you.
I should have known,though I did not,that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many illwho whiff it.We had our children,
rivals in the general onslaught.I put them asidethough I cared for them.
as well as any mancould care for his childrenaccording to my lights.
You understandI had to meet youafter the event
and have still to meet you.Loveto which you too shall bow
along with me-a flowera weakest flower
shall be our trustand not becausewe are too feeble
to do otherwisebut becauseat the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,therefore to provethat we love each other
while my very bones sweatedthat I could not cry to youin the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,I come, my sweet,to sing to you!
My heart rousesthinking to bring you newsof something
that concerns youand concerns many men.Look atwhat passes for the new.
You will not find it there but indespised poems.It is difficult
to get the news from poemsyet men die miserably every dayfor lack
of what is found there.Hear me outfor I too am concerned
and every manwho wants to die at peace in his bedbesides.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" by William Carlos Williams: An Exploration of Life and Death

Are you ready to dive into the world of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" by William Carlos Williams? This poem is a stunning exploration of life and death, love and loss, and the complexities of the human experience. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the themes and imagery of this classic piece of poetry.

The Poem

First, let's take a look at the poem itself:

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 flowerings. And I walk
to the window and see
how once again the fluttering
merge with the sunlight—
Greek beauty! you have survived
so much!
I see you
once again
eating the earth!
your scant sustenance
from the moist earth
and the slender
bulbs that slide
under the surface—
O slenderest
of spring upon the earth!
lips of the earth
alive with
tiny insects and
rejoicing in the spring.

The poem begins with a description of asphodel, a type of flower that is "green and wooden." The speaker then addresses their "sweet," and expresses their desire to sing to them. The speaker reflects on the life they shared together, a life filled with flowers, and remembers how happy they were to discover that even in hell, there were flowers. The poem then shifts to the present, and the speaker is filled with the fading memory of those flowerings. They walk to the window and see the asphodels once again merging with the sunlight, and marvel at their beauty and resilience. The poem ends with a description of the earth coming alive in spring, with "lips of the earth alive with tiny insects and rejoicing in the spring."


One of the major themes in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is the interplay between life and death. The poem explores the idea that even in the face of death, life persists. This is exemplified through the imagery of the asphodels, which are associated with both life and death. In Greek mythology, asphodels were associated with the afterlife, and were thought to grow in the Elysian Fields, the resting place of the heroic and virtuous dead. However, in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," the asphodels are also associated with life and vitality. The speaker marvels at their resilience and beauty, even as they are fading away.

Another theme in the poem is the idea of memory and nostalgia. The speaker is filled with the fading memory of the flowers they once shared with their loved one. The past is always present in the poem, and the speaker is constantly reflecting on their shared experiences. The line "We lived long together / a life filled, if you will, / with flowers" is particularly poignant, as it suggests that even though their life together may not have been perfect, it was still filled with beauty and joy.

Love and loss are also major themes in the poem. The speaker's love for their sweet is evident throughout the poem, and their loss is felt acutely. The imagery of the fading asphodels is a powerful metaphor for the way that love can fade over time, but also for the way that memories can be preserved. The poem is a tribute to the speaker's loved one, and a meditation on the ways in which love endures even in the face of loss.


The imagery in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is rich and evocative, and is key to understanding the themes of the poem. The description of the asphodels as a "greeny flower" that is "like a buttercup / upon its branching stem" is both beautiful and haunting. The juxtaposition of the greenness and woodenness of the flower is a striking contrast, and suggests both life and death.

The line "Greek beauty! you have survived / so much!" is particularly powerful, as it suggests the resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship and struggle. The speaker is in awe of the asphodels, which have survived despite everything that has been thrown at them. This is a metaphor for the way that humans can survive and thrive even in the face of adversity.

The final lines of the poem, which describe the earth coming alive in spring, are a beautiful and hopeful image. The "lips of the earth" are alive with tiny insects, and the earth is "rejoicing in the spring." This imagery suggests the cyclical nature of life, and the way that even in the depths of winter, there is always the promise of spring.


"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a stunning poem that explores the complexities of the human experience. Through its themes of life and death, memory and nostalgia, love and loss, and resilience, the poem offers a powerful meditation on what it means to be human. The imagery in the poem is rich and evocative, and is key to understanding the themes and emotions that are present throughout. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry, and a reminder that even in the face of adversity, beauty and hope can still be found.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry

William Carlos Williams is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and his work "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a masterpiece of modern poetry. This poem is a complex and multi-layered work that explores themes of love, loss, and mortality. In this analysis, we will delve into the intricacies of this poem and explore its meaning and significance.

The poem is divided into five sections, each of which explores a different aspect of the poet's experience. The first section begins with the line "Of asphodel, that greeny flower, like a buttercup upon its branching stem." This line sets the tone for the entire poem, as it introduces the central metaphor of the asphodel flower. The asphodel is a flower that was believed to grow in the Elysian Fields, the afterlife realm of Greek mythology. It is often associated with death and mourning, and Williams uses it as a symbol for the poet's own mortality.

The second section of the poem is a reflection on the poet's past. He remembers a time when he was "young and easy under the apple boughs," and he longs to return to that time. This section is filled with nostalgia and a sense of loss, as the poet realizes that he can never go back to that time. He is haunted by the memories of his youth, and he longs for the innocence and simplicity of that time.

The third section of the poem is a meditation on love. The poet reflects on the love he has experienced in his life, and he realizes that it has been both a source of joy and pain. He describes love as a "terrible fish," which can be both beautiful and dangerous. This section is filled with powerful imagery and emotion, as the poet grapples with the complexities of love.

The fourth section of the poem is a reflection on death. The poet acknowledges that death is inevitable, and he wonders what will happen to him after he dies. He imagines himself as a "ghostly figure," wandering through the afterlife. This section is filled with a sense of uncertainty and fear, as the poet confronts his own mortality.

The final section of the poem is a reflection on the act of writing. The poet acknowledges that writing is a way to transcend death, as it allows him to leave something behind after he is gone. He describes writing as a "greeny flower," which will continue to bloom long after he is gone. This section is filled with a sense of hope and optimism, as the poet realizes that his words will live on long after he is gone.

Overall, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a powerful and moving work of poetry. It explores themes of love, loss, and mortality in a way that is both complex and accessible. The central metaphor of the asphodel flower is used to great effect, as it ties together the different sections of the poem and gives it a sense of unity. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to explore the deepest aspects of the human experience, and it is a work that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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