- "About a little girl": A William Carlos Williams Poem and Its Legacy by Michael Lund and Robert W. Hamblin
This small book commemorates the gift to the archives of the Kent Library of Southeast Missouri State University of the typescript of an uncollected [End Page 205] and, until 2007, unpublished poem by William Carlos Williams, "About a little girl":1
Knowledge defeats its own endapproaching the state of heavenwhen it envisionsthrough the glassdelicately adjusted in thesliding tubes —to prove death inevitable—the red and blue dotsof anilene stained blood whichshout derisively at our despair
But the childwalks laughing fromroom to room of her gentle home
She is eleven andher parents love her very much
Over herthe trees hold their leavesdripping with the rainshining green
This afternoon she will ride in the busto the railroad station
There will be a locomotiveand cars and people running around—bags to carry—The lakebeckons in the distance— Butshe is an angel, already inheaven, the earth
is a toy balloon under her feet— [End Page 206] with her girlish shoes shepushes it back—it falls away into banality—her wrinkling brown eyes have robbed itof its meaning—
It is she
The Promenader—whom men see and do not discover—
Princess Marioneaten by curious wrongs(13-14)
The poem itself is about knowledge—specifically the physician's presumed knowledge of hidden or obscured things, such as that while we are in life we are in death due to the secret presence of disease not yet made fully manifest, especially poignant when the patient is a child. Robert W. Hamblin gives a finely sensitive close reading of the paradoxes, tensions, and thematic consistency of the poem, in one of the component essays to the volume, "Notes on 'About a little girl'" (59-62). One of the ironies surrounding the poem, apparently given to the mother of the diagnosed child, however, is that a diagnosis can be incorrect, and this in part creates the story of "its legacy" or, in any case, its interpretation and reception in posterity as part of a complex story.
The mother of the "little girl" (and grandmother of the two donors of the poem to the library), Ethel Woodruff Macy, was herself an occasional minor poet, living a few blocks down Ridge Road from Williams's home in Rutherford in the 1920s. Furthermore one of the two grandsons and heirs who donated the typescript to the library is a regional novelist, author of serial novels about life along Route 66 in Missouri, and a professor of English at Longwood University in Virginia. The grandson-donor's commentary on the legacies of the poem, in the essay "Literary and Literal Ancestors" (17-54), leads us to view the poem through a series of lenses framing the poem in biographical, autobiographical, and literary-historical perspectives.
Ethel Woodruff Macy's poetry was conventional and modestly competent. It was published in a variety of journals and anthologies, often alongside more daring and aggressively distinguished modernist work. As the grandson Michael Lund traces the genealogy of the poem, illuminates the poetic career of his grandmother, and meditates upon literature as a way of knowing, one cannot help but think of the contrasting example in Williams's career of the relationship with, and [End Page 207] use in his own writing of, the words of Marcia Nardi. In that respect alone, this publication expands our view of Williams's multiple faces and guises.
Finally, two brief concluding autobiographical comments by grandchildren of another sort—Williams's own—provide different and contrasting notes regarding posterity. "Offspring," to use Daphne Williams Fox's tellingly-chosen word describing her relationship to her father, of two different sons of Williams—Paul and William Eric—have two different stories of patrimony to tell. The book concludes with the darker and more somber...