Readings in Temporal Poetics: Four Poems by William Carlos Williams


Poetry is formal. Rhythm and form are closely related. Rhythm is componential. Form is paradigmatic. The qualities of the rhythmic components are the source of formal paradigms. Poetic paradigms are quadratic, organizing linguistic, rhetorical, and symbolic forms into four temporalities (cyclical time, centroidal time, linear time, and relative time) following the four components of rhythm (meter, grouping, prolongation, and theme). Each poem is a complex mixture of these four temporalities. It is this complex mixture of temporalities that gives a poem its unique "inner" form, its distinct sensibility/subjectivity/psychology. Cyclical time is physical/perceptual/ecstatic. Centroidal time is emotional. Linear time is actional/volitional. Relative time is memorial/imaginative. I call this approach to poetry "temporal poetics." Using this "temporal poetics," this essay provides complete readings of four poems by William Carlos Williams: "The Young Housewife," "The Red Wheelbarrow," "This is Just to Say," and "Flowers by the Sea."