A Snapshot of a Common Tragedy: William Carlos Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window” – An Imagist View

“Young Woman at a Window” (version 1)

While she sits

there

 

with tears on

her cheek

 

her cheek on

her hand

 

this little child

who robs her

 

knows nothing of

his theft

 

but rubs his

nose

 

“Young Woman at a Window” (version 2)

She sits with

tears on

 

her cheek

her cheek on

 

her hand

the child

 

in her lap

his nose

 

pressed

to the glass

 

If we look at some of the ingredients the imagists wrote in their manifesto as a recipe for a new, modern, poetry, we can see why the second version of “Young Woman at a Window” is considered to be more imagist than the first. It describes an objective picture of everyday life. We can see a woman crying silently, while her child is sitting on her lap, without a care in the world. We don’t know why is she crying, or why is she sitting at a window. This version doesn’t offer many clues, even though it uses the “language of the common speech,” and is very clear in its description. This clearness brings to mind a journalistic-style photograph, where the author tries to capture his subject objectively and somewhat distantly, without getting too much emotionally involved. The five stanzas are very condensed, adding to the mystery of the image.

On the other hand, the first version gives us a bit more insight on the woman’s sorrow. It strays away from the imagist ideas by offering a more metaphorical poem. If the second version is concentrated on objectivity, the first one is more concerned with subjectivity. Now we understand the woman’s sadness. The child is robbing his mother of her dreams, her aspirations, her life.

Both versions show a very astute and precise attention to details. But if the second version can be seen as a professional, photojournalistic rendering of a subject, the first one is a snapshot of a person. We can feel the woman’s pain and we can relate to her, because we can see her every day in our lives. She may be our grandmother, our mother, or our sister. William Carlos Williams just took a quick picture of a tragedy that may be more common than we think.

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