'Tract' by William Carlos Williams

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I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral
for you have it over a troop
of artists-
unless one should scour the world-
you have the ground sense necessary.See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ's sake not black-
nor white either - and not polished!
Let it be weathered-like a farm wagon-
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.Knock the glass out!
My God-glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
the flowers or the lack of them-
or what?
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass-
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom-
my townspeople, what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.No wreathes please-
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes-a few books perhaps-
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
my townspeople-
something will be found-anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.For heaven's sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that's no place at all for him-
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down-bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I'd not have him ride
on the wagon at all-damn him!-
the undertaker's understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind-as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly-
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What-from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us-it will be money
in your pockets.
Go now
I think you are ready.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Tract by William Carlos Williams: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry

As I sit down to write about William Carlos Williams' Poetry, Tract, I can't help but feel a sense of excitement and awe. This is a poem that has been hailed as a masterpiece of modernist poetry, and for good reason. The poem is a stunning example of Williams' unique style, which blends a commitment to everyday language and experience with a deep awareness of the possibilities of poetry. In this essay, I will explore the themes and techniques that make Poetry, Tract such an important work, and explain why it continues to resonate with readers today.


Before we delve into the poem itself, it's worth taking a moment to understand the context in which Williams was writing. Williams was part of a group of poets who came to be known as the Modernists, who were rebelling against the traditional forms and language of poetry that had dominated the 19th century. They sought to create a new kind of poetry that reflected the realities of the modern world, and which used everyday language and experiences as its raw materials.

Williams was particularly interested in the idea of "objectivism," which argued that poetry should focus on the object or thing being described, rather than the emotions or ideas of the poet. This approach was seen as a way of creating a new kind of poetry that was free from the constraints of traditional forms and styles.

The Poem

With that context in mind, let's turn to the poem itself. Poetry, Tract is a short poem, only 14 lines long, but it packs a powerful punch. The poem begins with a simple declaration: "I'm going to write a tract." This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is straightforward and unpretentious.

As the poem continues, Williams describes the things he sees around him - the "blue sky," the "green tree," the "white cat." Each line is a snapshot of a moment in time, a glimpse of the world as it exists in that particular instant. But as we read on, we realize that there is more going on here than just a series of descriptions.


One of the key themes of Poetry, Tract is the idea of perception. Williams is interested in the way that we see and experience the world around us, and how our perceptions shape our understanding of reality. Each line of the poem is a different perspective on the world, a different way of seeing and understanding the objects around us.

At the same time, though, Williams is also interested in the limitations of perception. No matter how closely we look at the world, there are always things that we miss or misunderstand. The poem's final lines - "and that's all / I'm going to say except / that it's cold in the room / all of a sudden" - suggest that there is something beyond our understanding, something that eludes our perceptions.


Williams' approach to poetry is also reflected in the techniques he uses in Poetry, Tract. One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of enjambment, where a line of poetry continues on to the next line without a pause or break. This creates a sense of fluidity and movement, and emphasizes the interconnectedness of the objects and experiences Williams is describing.

Another technique Williams uses is repetition, particularly with the phrase "I'm going to write a tract." By repeating this phrase throughout the poem, Williams emphasizes the poem's status as a tract, a statement of intent, and a call to action.

Finally, it's worth noting the poem's use of color imagery. Williams uses colors to create a vivid picture of the world around us, and to suggest the ways in which our perceptions are shaped by the colors we see. Colors also have emotional resonance, and the poem's use of blue, green, and white creates a sense of calmness and serenity that is in contrast to the sudden coldness of the final lines.


Poetry, Tract is a masterpiece of modernist poetry, and a testament to Williams' ability to create powerful and resonant poetry out of everyday language and experiences. The poem's focus on perception, its use of enjambment and repetition, and its vivid color imagery all contribute to its impact and lasting significance.

As we read the poem, we are reminded of the power of poetry to transform the world around us, and to help us see the world in new and unexpected ways. Williams may have been writing nearly a century ago, but his poetry continues to speak to us today, and to inspire us to see the world anew.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

William Carlos Williams is one of the most renowned poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their simplicity, clarity, and vivid imagery. One of his most famous poems is the Poetry Tract, which was published in 1917. This poem is a masterpiece of modernist poetry and is a perfect example of Williams' unique style.

The Poetry Tract is a short poem that consists of only six lines. However, despite its brevity, the poem is packed with meaning and symbolism. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow any specific rhyme or meter. This style of poetry was popular among modernist poets, who believed that traditional forms of poetry were too restrictive and limiting.

The first line of the poem, "If I when my wife is sleeping," sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is addressing the reader directly and is talking about his wife. The use of the word "if" suggests that the speaker is contemplating something, and the fact that his wife is sleeping adds a sense of intimacy and vulnerability to the poem.

The second line, "and the baby and Kathleen," introduces two more characters into the poem. The baby is most likely the speaker's child, and Kathleen is possibly a family member or friend. The fact that the speaker mentions these two characters suggests that they are important to him and that he is concerned about their well-being.

The third line, "should die," is a stark and shocking statement. The speaker is contemplating the possibility of death, and the fact that he is considering the death of his wife, child, and friend is a powerful and emotional image.

The fourth line, "it were a common grief," is a commentary on the nature of grief. The speaker is suggesting that if his loved ones were to die, it would be a common experience that many people have gone through. This line also suggests that the speaker is aware of the universality of grief and that he is not alone in his pain.

The fifth line, "and we a common sorrow," reinforces the idea that grief is a shared experience. The use of the word "we" suggests that the speaker is not alone in his grief and that he is part of a larger community of people who have experienced loss.

The final line of the poem, "and valid in one," is a powerful statement about the nature of human experience. The speaker is suggesting that despite our differences, we are all connected by our shared experiences of joy and sorrow. The word "valid" suggests that these experiences are important and meaningful, and the phrase "in one" suggests that we are all part of a larger whole.

Overall, the Poetry Tract is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and grief. The poem is a perfect example of Williams' unique style, which is characterized by its simplicity, clarity, and vivid imagery. The use of free verse and the direct address to the reader create a sense of intimacy and vulnerability that is both powerful and emotional.

In conclusion, the Poetry Tract is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of love, loss, and grief are universal, and its message of shared experience and connection is as relevant now as it was when it was first published over a century ago. William Carlos Williams' legacy as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century is secure, and the Poetry Tract is a shining example of his unique and powerful voice.

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