'To Waken An Old Lady' by William Carlos Williams

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Old age is
a flight of small
cheeping birds
bare trees
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffeted
by a dark wind-
But what?
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested-
the snow
is covered with broken
seed husks
and the wind tempered
with a shrill
piping of plenty.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To Waken An Old Lady: A Literary Analysis


"To Waken An Old Lady" is a poem by William Carlos Williams, written in 1959. It is a poem that depicts the scene of an old woman, who is asleep and unaware of the world around her. The poem has a deep sense of pathos attached to it, as it portrays the old lady's loneliness and isolation. This paper aims to analyze and interpret the literary elements of the poem, including its form, language, and imagery.


The poem is written in free verse, with no particular rhyme scheme or meter. However, it has a distinct structure. The poem is divided into three stanzas of unequal length. The first stanza contains three lines, the second has five lines, and the third has six lines. The poem's structure is interesting because it reflects the old lady's gradual awakening, with each stanza representing a stage of her awakening.

The first stanza describes the old lady's state of deep sleep, as she is "dead to the world". The second stanza is a transition, as the old lady begins to stir from her sleep. The third stanza is the climax of the poem, as the old lady wakes up and becomes aware of her surroundings.


The language used in the poem is simple, yet powerful. The poem's central theme is the old lady's awakening, and Williams uses language that conveys this theme effectively. The poem is filled with words that create vivid imagery, such as "sluggish", "rumpled", "dangling", and "fluttered". These words paint a picture of the old lady's state of being and help the reader understand her situation.

The poem also has a certain musical quality to it. Williams uses alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme to create a rhythm that adds to the poem's overall effect. For example, in the second stanza, Williams writes: "Her eyelids / flicker. / She /Heaves a sigh…", where the repetition of the "h" sound creates a soft, soothing effect.


The poem's imagery is perhaps its most striking feature. Williams uses visual and tactile imagery to create a vivid picture of the old lady and her surroundings. In the first stanza, Williams writes: "Her pillow / bore / her little wealth". This line creates an image of the old lady's pillow as a place where she keeps all her belongings and treasures, as if it were a chest or a safe.

In the second stanza, Williams writes: "Her eyelids / flicker. / She / Heaves a sigh…". These lines create a sensory image of the old lady's slow awakening, as her eyes flutter and she takes a deep breath.

In the third stanza, Williams writes: "She looked / straight ahead / and saw / a new white / hair / on her / own pillow". This imagery is especially powerful because it represents the old lady's realization that time has passed and she is no longer young. The new white hair on her pillow is a symbol of her age and mortality.


The poem can be interpreted in many ways, but I believe its central theme is the inevitability of aging and mortality. The old lady in the poem is a symbol of every human being who has ever lived, and her awakening represents the moment when we become aware of our own mortality.

The poem also has a deeper message about the importance of cherishing life and living in the present moment. The old lady in the poem has spent her life accumulating wealth and possessions, but in the end, they are of little value to her. The only thing that matters is the realization that time is fleeting, and we must make the most of every moment.


"To Waken An Old Lady" is a beautiful and poignant poem that explores the themes of aging, mortality, and the importance of living in the present moment. Williams uses language and imagery to create a vivid picture of an old woman's awakening, and the poem's structure reflects the gradual process of her realization. The poem is a reminder that life is short and that we must cherish every moment.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To Waken An Old Lady: A Masterpiece of Imagery and Emotion

William Carlos Williams is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his innovative style and unique approach to poetry. His poem, Poetry To Waken An Old Lady, is a perfect example of his mastery of language and imagery. In this 24-line poem, Williams takes the reader on a journey through the mind of an old woman, awakening her senses and emotions with his words.

The poem begins with the line, "There's nothing like the sun," immediately setting the tone for the rest of the piece. Williams uses the sun as a symbol of life and vitality, and the old woman's reaction to it is a reflection of her own feelings of loneliness and isolation. The use of the word "nothing" emphasizes the emptiness she feels, and the contrast between the brightness of the sun and the darkness of her surroundings highlights her sense of despair.

As the poem progresses, Williams introduces a series of sensory images that awaken the old woman's senses. He describes the "smell of dust" and the "sound of the cricket," both of which are familiar to her and evoke memories of her past. The use of sensory language is a powerful tool in poetry, as it allows the reader to experience the same sensations as the character in the poem. In this case, the reader can almost smell the dust and hear the cricket, creating a vivid and immersive experience.

Williams also uses repetition to emphasize the old woman's sense of isolation. The phrase "alone in the old house" is repeated twice, emphasizing her loneliness and the emptiness of her surroundings. The repetition also creates a sense of rhythm and structure in the poem, adding to its overall impact.

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry To Waken An Old Lady is its use of imagery. Williams paints a vivid picture of the old woman's surroundings, describing the "cobwebs" and "dust" that cover everything. These images create a sense of decay and neglect, emphasizing the old woman's sense of isolation and abandonment. The use of imagery is a hallmark of Williams' poetry, and in this poem, it is used to great effect.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful. Williams writes, "She sits in the old house / and the sense of time is almost gone / and the sun is touching the wall." These lines capture the essence of the poem, as the old woman is finally awakened to the beauty of the world around her. The use of the word "almost" suggests that she is not quite there yet, but the sun touching the wall is a symbol of hope and renewal.

In conclusion, Poetry To Waken An Old Lady is a masterpiece of imagery and emotion. Williams' use of sensory language, repetition, and imagery creates a powerful and immersive experience for the reader. The poem is a reflection of the human experience, capturing the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair that we all experience at some point in our lives. But it is also a poem of hope, as the old woman is awakened to the beauty of the world around her. This is a poem that will stay with the reader long after they have finished reading it, a testament to Williams' skill as a poet.

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