'Complaint' by William Carlos Williams

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They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one golden needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.

Submitted by Bob

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Complaint by William Carlos Williams: A Masterpiece of Imagery and Emotion

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like the world was crashing down on you, where everything around you seemed bleak and hopeless, and all you wanted to do was scream and cry out in frustration? That's the kind of feeling that William Carlos Williams captures masterfully in his poem, "The Complaint". This classic piece of literature is a beautiful example of how a poet can use language to evoke powerful emotions and create vivid imagery that lingers in the mind long after the words have been read.

Overview of the Poem

"The Complaint" is a short poem consisting of only 14 lines, but it packs a powerful emotional punch. The poem is structured as a series of four stanzas, each with a different number of lines. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with the speaker expressing his feelings of frustration and despair. The second and third stanzas delve deeper into the imagery of the poem, with the speaker describing the world around him in vivid detail. The final stanza provides a glimmer of hope, suggesting that despite the darkness and despair, there is still beauty and wonder in the world.

Analysis of the Poem

One of the most striking things about "The Complaint" is the way that Williams uses language to create vivid images in the reader's mind. The poem is full of rich sensory details that bring the world of the speaker to life. For example, in the second stanza, the speaker describes the "black sky" that seems to weigh down on him, and the "cold land" that is "barren and bare". These images create a sense of bleakness and hopelessness, as if the speaker is trapped in a world that is devoid of life and warmth.

However, amidst this darkness, there are moments of beauty and wonder. In the third stanza, the speaker describes the "white moon" that shines down on the world, casting a beautiful light on everything around it. This image creates a sense of contrast and balance, as if even in the darkest of times, there is still some light to be found.

Another key aspect of the poem is the use of repetition and rhythm. The poem has a very structured form, with each stanza consisting of a different number of lines. This creates a sense of movement and progression, as the poem builds towards its conclusion. The repeated use of the word "complaint" also creates a sense of frustration and annoyance, as if the speaker is unable to escape his own thoughts and feelings.

Interpretation of the Poem

So what does "The Complaint" mean? As with any work of literature, there are many possible interpretations, but one of the most compelling is that the poem is about the struggle to find beauty and meaning in a world that can often feel dark and desolate. The speaker is clearly in a state of despair, but even amidst this darkness, there are moments of beauty and wonder. The final stanza suggests that despite the hardships of life, there is still reason to hope and to find joy in the world.

Another possible interpretation is that the poem is about the power of language and poetry to bring light to even the darkest of situations. The speaker is using his words to express his feelings and to create images that capture the essence of his experience. Through the act of writing, he is able to find a sense of connection to the world around him, and to create something beautiful out of his own pain and frustration.


In conclusion, "The Complaint" is a powerful and emotional poem that captures the essence of human experience in a way that is both beautiful and profound. Through its use of vivid imagery and structured form, the poem creates a sense of movement and progression that builds towards a hopeful and optimistic conclusion. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply appreciate beautiful language and imagery, "The Complaint" is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience the power of literature to evoke deep emotions and create lasting impressions.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Complaint by William Carlos Williams: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry

William Carlos Williams is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his innovative style and unique approach to language. His poem "Complaint" is a perfect example of his mastery of modern poetry, with its vivid imagery, unconventional structure, and powerful message. In this article, we will explore the poem in detail, analyzing its themes, literary devices, and historical context.

The poem begins with a simple statement: "They call me and I go." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the nature of duty and obligation. The speaker is a doctor, and he is describing his work in attending to the sick and dying. He is called to their bedside, and he goes without hesitation, even though he knows that he cannot always save them. This sense of duty is a central theme of the poem, and it is one that Williams explores in depth.

The second stanza of the poem is where Williams really begins to flex his poetic muscles. He uses a series of metaphors to describe the doctor's work, comparing it to a "dog's life" and a "rat's life." These comparisons are not meant to be derogatory, but rather to emphasize the difficult and often thankless nature of the work. The doctor is constantly on call, always ready to respond to emergencies, and often working long hours without rest. This is a life that requires a great deal of sacrifice, and Williams wants us to understand that.

The third stanza of the poem is where Williams really begins to play with language. He uses a series of short, choppy sentences to describe the doctor's work, creating a sense of urgency and immediacy. The doctor is "upstairs and downstairs," "in the wards and in the halls," "in the front lines and in the trenches." These phrases are meant to convey the sense of chaos and confusion that often accompanies medical emergencies. The doctor must be everywhere at once, and he must be able to think on his feet and make split-second decisions.

The fourth stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. Williams uses a series of vivid images to describe the doctor's encounters with the sick and dying. He describes the "white old man" who "lay dying," the "young man" who "cried out from a wound," and the "woman" who "screamed." These images are meant to be disturbing, to shock us out of our complacency and make us confront the reality of death and suffering. Williams wants us to understand that the doctor's work is not just a job, but a calling, a vocation that requires a great deal of emotional and spiritual strength.

The fifth stanza of the poem is where Williams begins to shift his focus from the doctor to the patient. He describes the "sick old woman" who "cannot keep her food down," and the "young woman" who "lies in a coma." These images are meant to convey the sense of helplessness and vulnerability that often accompanies illness. The doctor is not just a healer, but a comforter, a source of hope and reassurance in the face of pain and suffering.

The final stanza of the poem is where Williams brings everything together. He describes the doctor as a "soldier," a "hero," and a "saint." These are not meant to be empty platitudes, but rather to emphasize the importance of the doctor's work. The doctor is not just a skilled technician, but a human being, with all the flaws and virtues that come with that. He is someone who has chosen to dedicate his life to the service of others, and that is something to be celebrated and honored.

In conclusion, "Complaint" is a masterpiece of modern poetry, a powerful meditation on the nature of duty, sacrifice, and compassion. Williams uses a variety of literary devices, including metaphors, imagery, and unconventional syntax, to create a vivid and compelling portrait of the doctor's work. The poem is not just a tribute to the medical profession, but a reminder of the importance of empathy and human connection in the face of suffering. It is a poem that speaks to us across the decades, reminding us of the enduring power of poetry to move and inspire us.

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