'Portrait Of A Lady' by William Carlos Williams
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Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze-or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
-As if that answered
anything.-Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore-
the sand clings to my lips-
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
-the petals from some hidden
I said petals from an appletree.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Portrait of a Lady: A Masterpiece in Modern Poetry
William Carlos Williams' "Portrait of a Lady" is a masterpiece in modern poetry. In this poem, Williams presents a vivid portrait of a woman, capturing the complexity and mystery of her personality through his brilliant use of imagery, sound, and structure. With its direct and intimate tone, this poem draws the reader into the world of the lady, inviting us to explore the emotional landscape of her inner life.
The Power of Imagery
One of the most striking features of "Portrait of a Lady" is Williams' masterful use of imagery. Through his careful selection of words and phrases, he creates a visual and sensory experience that is both rich and evocative. Consider, for example, the following lines:
Your thighs are apple trees whose blossoms touch the sky Which sky? The sky where Watteau hung a lady's slipper. Your knees are a southern breeze -- or a gust of snow.
In these lines, Williams compares the lady's thighs to apple trees, evoking a sense of fertility and abundance. He then references the painting of Watteau, a master of the Rococo style, to suggest the lady's grace and elegance. The use of the word "slipper" is particularly clever, as it hints at the lady's sensuality without being overtly sexual. Finally, the comparison of her knees to a southern breeze or a gust of snow is a striking contrast that suggests the unpredictable nature of her personality.
The Music of Language
Another hallmark of Williams' poetry is his exquisite attention to sound. Throughout "Portrait of a Lady," he uses alliteration, assonance, and rhyme to create a musical quality that enhances the emotional intensity of the poem. Consider the following lines:
The lengthened sun falls from noon On passers-by, The pavement steamers With the hasting feet of the Summer rain
Here, Williams uses alliteration to create a sense of movement and urgency. The repetition of the "s" and "p" sounds in "pavement steamers" and "passers-by" creates a sense of energy that is reinforced by the "hasting feet" of the summer rain. The rhyme between "noon" and "passers-by" also adds to the musical quality of the poem.
The Structure of the Poem
The structure of "Portrait of a Lady" is also worth noting. The poem is composed of thirteen stanzas, each with three lines. This creates a sense of symmetry and balance that is reflective of the lady's inner life. Additionally, the enjambment between the stanzas creates a sense of fluidity and movement, suggesting the lady's ever-shifting emotional state.
The Lady's Inner Life
Despite the vividness of Williams' imagery and the musicality of his language, "Portrait of a Lady" is not just a series of beautiful images strung together. Rather, it is a deeply psychological exploration of the lady's inner life. Williams draws the reader into her mind, allowing us to see the world through her eyes. Consider the following lines:
With the earth betrayed by war & The sky gone dirty with flying ash, All the brave, great gestures choked in the Throat. We seem to be back in the early days When the lady Who is now addressed as madam Used to dance with the little lieutenant To the tune of the Picador's drum Before Rio was so much a ruin as it is Today.
Here, Williams uses the backdrop of war and destruction to suggest the lady's own inner turmoil. The reference to her dancing with the little lieutenant is a poignant reminder of her lost youth and innocence. The final line, "Before Rio was so much a ruin as it is today," is a striking metaphor for the lady's own sense of loss and disintegration.
In "Portrait of a Lady," William Carlos Williams creates a vivid and intimate portrait of a complex and mysterious woman. Through his use of imagery, sound, and structure, he draws the reader into her world, allowing us to explore the emotional landscape of her inner life. This poem is a masterful example of modern poetry, combining beauty and depth with a profound psychological insight into human nature.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry Portrait Of A Lady: A Masterpiece by William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams, one of the most prominent poets of the 20th century, is known for his unique style and approach to poetry. His works are characterized by their simplicity, clarity, and vivid imagery. One of his most famous poems, "Portrait of a Lady," is a perfect example of his style and technique.
"Portrait of a Lady" is a short poem consisting of only 10 lines. However, the poem is packed with meaning and depth. The poem is a portrait of a woman, but it is not a conventional portrait. Instead, the poem captures the essence of the woman, her personality, and her emotions.
The poem begins with the line, "Your thighs are appletrees whose blossoms touch the sky." This line is a metaphor that compares the woman's thighs to appletrees in bloom. The use of metaphor is a common technique in Williams' poetry. The metaphor is not only beautiful but also suggests the woman's youthfulness and vitality.
The next line, "Which sky? The sky where Watteau hung a lady's slipper." is a reference to the painting "Pilgrimage to Cythera" by Antoine Watteau. The painting depicts a group of people on a journey to the island of Cythera, the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of love. The line suggests that the woman is on a journey of her own, perhaps a journey of self-discovery or love.
The third line, "Your thighs are appletrees whose blossoms touch the sky" is repeated, emphasizing the metaphor and the woman's beauty.
The fourth line, "Which sky? The one where Chopin flies a kite at a dead hour of night," is another reference to art. This time, it is a reference to the composer Frederic Chopin. The line suggests that the woman is not only beautiful but also has a creative and artistic side.
The fifth line, "Which kite? Something of his brain and hand," is a metaphor that compares the woman to a kite. The metaphor suggests that the woman is free-spirited and independent.
The sixth line, "He never flew again – it hung on the wall like a flag," is a reference to Chopin's declining health and his inability to play the piano in his later years. The line suggests that the woman may also have experienced a loss or a decline in her life.
The seventh line, "Your thighs are a southern breeze – or a gust of snow," is another metaphor that compares the woman's thighs to a breeze or snow. The metaphor suggests that the woman is both gentle and powerful.
The eighth line, "A jeweled tent peg thrust into the ice and still," is a metaphor that compares the woman to a tent peg. The metaphor suggests that the woman is strong and resilient, able to withstand the challenges of life.
The ninth line, "Chemical fire across the frosted heavens, these military days," is a reference to the chemical warfare used during World War I. The line suggests that the woman may have experienced the horrors of war or the aftermath of war.
The final line, "Your beauty and your beastliness, unforgettable," is a powerful conclusion to the poem. The line suggests that the woman is both beautiful and flawed, both human and animalistic. The line also suggests that the woman is unforgettable, leaving a lasting impression on those who meet her.
In conclusion, "Portrait of a Lady" is a masterpiece of modern poetry. The poem captures the essence of a woman, her beauty, her creativity, her strength, and her flaws. The poem is a testament to Williams' unique style and technique, his use of metaphor, and his ability to capture the complexity of human emotions. The poem is a reminder that beauty and beastliness are not mutually exclusive, and that every person is unforgettable in their own way.
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