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

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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

Editor 1 Interpretation

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

William Carlos Williams was a modernist poet who wrote in a style that was innovative for his time. His poetry was characterized by free verse and a focus on everyday objects and experiences. "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a prime example of Williams' style and is one of his most famous poems. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and structure of the poem, as well as its historical and cultural context.

Historical and Cultural Context

Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" was published in 1955, near the end of Williams' life. This was a time of great change in the United States, as the country was entering the post-World War II era and the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Williams himself was a radical thinker and supporter of social justice, and his poetry often reflected this.

At the same time, Williams was also grappling with personal issues as he approached the end of his life. He had suffered a heart attack in 1948, which left him with a chronic heart condition. In addition, he was mourning the loss of his wife Flossie, who had died in 1951. All of these factors undoubtedly influenced the writing of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower."


The central theme of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is death and the afterlife. The poem is structured as a series of reflections on the nature of existence, with the speaker contemplating the inevitability of his own death and what might come after. The use of the asphodel flower as a metaphor for the afterlife is a common motif in classical literature, and Williams draws on this tradition in his poem.

Another important theme in the poem is the transformative power of nature. Williams often celebrated the beauty of the natural world in his poetry, and "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is no exception. The imagery of the poem is rich with references to the natural world, with the speaker describing the sights and sounds of springtime in vivid detail.


One of the most striking aspects of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is its use of imagery. Williams was known for his ability to capture the essence of everyday objects and experiences in his poetry, and this is on full display in this poem. From the opening lines, the speaker invites the reader into a world of sensory experience:

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.

The description of the asphodel as a "greeny flower" immediately creates a sense of natural beauty, while the comparison to a buttercup adds a touch of whimsy. The use of the word "wooden" to describe the stem is unexpected and almost jarring, but it serves to remind the reader that this is a poem about the afterlife, where the rules of the natural world may not apply.

As the poem progresses, the imagery becomes more complex and layered. The speaker describes the sights and sounds of springtime in ways that are both lush and unsettling:

the bee
thriving on meadowsweet
bedazes with me
upon sweet asphodel-
I lie
stretch'd out
upon the grass-

Here, the speaker is both a part of nature (lying on the grass) and an observer of it (watching the bee). The use of the word "bedazes" to describe the bee's behavior is particularly striking, as it suggests a sense of disorientation or confusion. This may be a nod to the theme of death and the afterlife, where the rules of the natural world may not apply.


The structure of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This allows Williams to experiment with language and imagery, creating a sense of spontaneity and natural flow. The poem is divided into four sections, each of which is marked with a Roman numeral:

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 knew
the winter's
death was

I look
at the world
from a height-
from the height
of Asphodel…

The use of Roman numerals gives the poem a sense of structure and order, while the lack of punctuation creates a sense of fluidity and movement. This structure also allows the speaker to move from reflection to reflection, creating a sense of progression and development.


The meaning of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is open to interpretation, but several key themes and motifs emerge throughout the poem. The central theme of death and the afterlife is explored through the use of the asphodel flower as a metaphor. The speaker muses on the nature of existence and the inevitability of his own death, but also finds comfort in the idea of a natural cycle of rebirth and renewal.

The imagery of the poem is rich and evocative, with the natural world serving as a powerful symbol of transformation and renewal. The use of free verse allows Williams to experiment with language and imagery in ways that are both beautiful and unsettling.

Overall, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a powerful and moving poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. By using the natural world as a lens through which to view these questions, Williams creates a sense of beauty and wonder that is both captivating and thought-provoking.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry

William Carlos Williams is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his unique style and experimental approach to poetry. His collection of poems, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," is a prime example of his innovative style and mastery of language. In this article, we will delve into one of the most famous poems from this collection, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," and analyze its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with the line, "Of asphodel, that greeny flower, like a buttercup," immediately setting the tone for the rest of the poem. The use of the word "greeny" is a prime example of Williams' unique style, as it is not a commonly used word in the English language. This word choice is deliberate, as it sets the scene for the rest of the poem, which is filled with vivid imagery and sensory details.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with its own distinct theme and structure. The first stanza focuses on the beauty of the asphodel flower, describing it as "like a buttercup" and "the greeny flower of Zeus." This imagery is significant, as it connects the flower to the gods and emphasizes its importance and beauty. The use of the word "Zeus" also adds a mythological element to the poem, further emphasizing the flower's significance.

The second stanza takes a darker turn, as Williams describes the flower's connection to death and the afterlife. He writes, "It is like the funeral of a child," and "It is the tears of the earth that keep here." These lines are haunting and powerful, as they connect the beauty of the flower to the inevitability of death. The use of the word "tears" is particularly effective, as it creates a sense of sadness and mourning.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Williams returns to the beauty of the flower. He writes, "It is the moon wrapped in brown paper" and "It is the same light, but older." These lines are significant, as they connect the beauty of the flower to the passage of time. The use of the word "older" emphasizes the idea that beauty is not fleeting, but rather something that can endure over time.

Throughout the poem, Williams uses a variety of literary devices to create a sense of depth and complexity. One of the most notable devices is his use of imagery, which is vivid and sensory. He describes the flower as "like a buttercup," "the greeny flower of Zeus," and "the moon wrapped in brown paper." These images are powerful and evocative, creating a sense of beauty and wonder.

Another notable device is Williams' use of repetition. He repeats the phrase "It is" throughout the poem, emphasizing the importance of the flower and its connection to life and death. This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and structure, adding to the poem's overall impact.

In addition to these devices, Williams also uses enjambment and line breaks to create a sense of flow and movement. He breaks lines in unexpected places, creating a sense of surprise and emphasizing certain words and phrases. This technique is particularly effective in the second stanza, where he breaks the line between "It is like the funeral of a child" and "This greeny flower."

Overall, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry, showcasing Williams' unique style and mastery of language. The poem's themes of beauty, death, and the passage of time are universal and timeless, making it a powerful and enduring work of art. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply appreciate beautiful language, this poem is a must-read.

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