'A Goodnight' by William Carlos Williams

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Sour Grapes1921Go to sleep-though of course you will not-to tideless waves thundering slantwise againststrong embankments, rattle and swish of spraydashed thirty feet high, caught by the lake wind,scattered and strewn broadcast in over the steadycar rails! Sleep, sleep! Gulls' cries in a wind-gustbroken by the wind; calculating wings set abovethe field of waves breaking.Go to sleep to the lunge between foam-crests,refuse churned in the recoil. Food! Food!Offal! Offal! that holds them in the air, wave-whitefor the one purpose, feather upon feather, the wildchill in their eyes, the hoarseness in their voices-sleep, sleep . . .Gentlefooted crowds are treading out your lullaby.Their arms nudge, they brush shoulders,hitch this way then that, mass and surge at the crossings-lullaby, lullaby! The wild-fowl police whistles,the enraged roar of the traffic, machine shrieks:it is all to put you to sleep,to soften your limbs in relaxed postures,and that your head slip sidewise, and your hair loosenand fall over your eyes and over your mouth,brushing your lips wistfully that you may dream,sleep and dream-A black fungus springs out about the lonely church doors-sleep, sleep. The Night, coming down uponthe wet boulevard, would start you awake with hismessage, to have in at your window. Pay noheed to him. He storms at your sill withcooings, with gesticulations, curses!You will not let him in. He would keep you from sleeping.He would have you sit under your desk lampbrooding, pondering; he would have youslide out the drawer, take up the ornamented daggerand handle it. It is late, it is nineteen-nineteen-go to sleep, his cries are a lullaby;his jabbering is a sleep-well-my-baby; he isa crackbrained messenger.The maid waking you in the morningwhen you are up and dressing,the rustle of your clothes as you raise them-it is the same tune.At table the cold, greeninsh, split grapefruit, its juiceon the tongue, the clink of the spoon inyour coffee, the toast odors say it over and over.The open street-door lets in the breath ofthe morning wind from over the lake.The bus coming to a halt grinds from its sullen brakes-lullaby, lullaby. The crackle of a newspaper,the movement of the troubled coat beside you-sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep . . .It is the sting of snow, the burning liquor ofthe moonlight, the rush of rain in the gutters packedwith dead leaves: go to sleep, go to sleep.And the night passes-and never passes-

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry Analysis: "A Goodnight" by William Carlos Williams

Are you a fan of poetry? Do you enjoy reading works that are simple yet moving? Then "A Goodnight" by William Carlos Williams is a must-read for you! This short yet powerful poem is filled with vivid imagery and a touching moment that will leave you with a warm feeling in your heart.

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will take a closer look at "A Goodnight" and explore its themes, symbols, and literary devices. So buckle up and get ready to dive deep into the world of William Carlos Williams.

Background Information

William Carlos Williams was an American poet, born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. He was a physician by profession but is best known for his contributions to modernist poetry. Williams' poetry was characterized by its simplicity and vivid imagery, as well as its rejection of traditional poetic structures.

"A Goodnight" was first published in Williams' 1923 collection of poetry titled "Spring and All." The poem is only six lines long, but its impact on readers is profound. It is a prime example of Williams' style, and its simplicity is part of what makes it so memorable.

Poem Analysis

Now it's time to dive into the poem itself. Let's take a look at the text:

Many ways to say goodnight.
Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July
spell it out in grand, illuminated gestures
across the blackened sky.
In the park, the chess players nod,
briskly moving knights.
Goodnight kisses. Jumping onto trains.
Or going deeper into
the glowing neon of Chinatown, 
glimpsed, through the speeding windows, 
from another train going the opposite way.
Every end of the day, in New York City,
a few more lights go out 
and those who can afford it 
turn theirs on.

At first glance, the poem seems to be a simple description of the different ways people say goodnight in New York City. However, upon closer examination, the poem reveals a deeper meaning.

Structure and Form

The poem has a free verse structure, meaning that it does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, the lines are arranged in a way that creates a natural flow and rhythm.

The poem is also made up of six lines, which is considered a sextet. This structure is common in sonnets, but Williams uses it here to create a more compact and concise poem.


One of the central themes of the poem is the passage of time. The poem takes place at the end of the day, as people say their goodnights and turn off their lights. The fireworks on the Fourth of July also symbolize the passing of time, as they are a celebration of another year gone by.

Another theme in the poem is the contrast between grand gestures and simple actions. The fireworks and neon lights are grand and showy, while the chess players nodding and jumping onto trains are simple, everyday actions. Williams seems to suggest that both types of actions are important and meaningful in their own way.

Finally, the poem also touches on the idea of community. The fact that so many people are saying goodnight, each in their own way, creates a sense of shared experience. Even though they may not know each other, they are all part of the same city and the same moment in time.


The fireworks on the Fourth of July are a powerful symbol in the poem. They represent the passing of time, as well as the grand gestures that people use to mark important moments.

The chess players nodding and the people jumping onto trains are both symbols of the simple, everyday actions that make up our lives. Williams seems to be suggesting that these actions are just as important and meaningful as the grand gestures.

The neon lights of Chinatown are another symbol in the poem. They represent the vibrancy and energy of the city, as well as the diversity of the people who live there.

Literary Devices

One of the most striking literary devices used in the poem is imagery. Williams paints vivid pictures in the reader's mind with his descriptions of the fireworks, chess players, and neon lights. The imagery is so powerful that the reader can almost feel like they are in the city, experiencing the moment alongside the characters in the poem.

Another literary device used in the poem is repetition. The phrase "goodnight" is repeated multiple times throughout the poem, emphasizing the theme of saying goodbye and the passage of time.

Finally, Williams also uses enjambment in the poem. Enjambment is when a sentence or phrase runs onto the next line without punctuation, creating a natural flow and rhythm. Williams uses enjambment to great effect in "A Goodnight," creating a sense of motion and continuity in the poem.


Now that we've analyzed the poem in detail, let's explore some possible interpretations of "A Goodnight."

One interpretation is that the poem is a celebration of everyday life. Williams seems to be saying that even the simplest moments can be beautiful and meaningful, and that we should cherish them. The fact that so many people are saying goodnight in different ways suggests that life is full of diversity and richness.

Another interpretation is that the poem is a commentary on the passing of time. The fireworks on the Fourth of July and the turning off of lights at the end of the day both symbolize the passage of time. Williams seems to be reminding us that time is fleeting and that we should savor each moment.

Finally, the poem can also be seen as a reflection on the city itself. The fireworks, neon lights, and chess players all represent different aspects of New York City. Williams seems to be suggesting that the city is a vibrant and diverse place, full of life and energy.


In conclusion, "A Goodnight" by William Carlos Williams is a powerful and moving poem that explores themes of time, community, and everyday life. Through vivid imagery and careful use of literary devices, Williams creates a moment that is both simple and profound. Whether you're a fan of poetry or just looking for a beautiful and thought-provoking read, "A Goodnight" is sure to leave a lasting impression. So go ahead and give it a try – you won't be disappointed!

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has been used for centuries to express emotions, thoughts, and ideas. William Carlos Williams, a renowned American poet, is known for his unique style of writing that captures the essence of everyday life. One of his most famous poems, "A Goodnight," is a perfect example of his ability to create a beautiful piece of art out of the simplest of things.

The poem "A Goodnight" is a short, four-line poem that captures the essence of a peaceful night. The poem reads:

"Sleep softly my old love my beauty in the dark night is a dream we have as you know as you know"

At first glance, the poem may seem simple and straightforward, but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that there is much more to it than meets the eye.

The poem begins with the words "Sleep softly my old love," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is addressing someone they love, and they want them to sleep peacefully. The use of the word "old" suggests that the speaker and the person they are addressing have been together for a long time, and there is a deep sense of familiarity and comfort between them.

The next line, "my beauty in the dark," is a beautiful metaphor that captures the essence of the night. The night is often associated with darkness and fear, but the speaker sees beauty in it. The use of the word "beauty" suggests that the speaker finds comfort and peace in the darkness, and they want their loved one to feel the same way.

The third line, "night is a dream we have," is a powerful statement that suggests that the night is not just a physical experience but also a mental one. The night is a time when we can let go of our worries and fears and enter into a dreamlike state. The use of the word "we" suggests that the speaker and their loved one are sharing this experience together.

The final line, "as you know as you know," is a repetition of the phrase "as you know," which adds emphasis to the statement. The speaker is reminding their loved one that they both know the power and beauty of the night, and they want to share that experience together.

Overall, "A Goodnight" is a beautiful poem that captures the essence of a peaceful night. The use of metaphors and repetition adds depth and meaning to the poem, and the simple language makes it accessible to everyone. William Carlos Williams has created a masterpiece that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

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