There are few positive views of life to be found in C.K. Williams’ The Vigil. His poetry does not present a necessarily negative life-view, but rather sees the world as most others do. He calls out commonplace people, places, and times in the same manner that most of the rest of us do, despite how dark it may seem.
Williams uses a lot of punctuation in his poetry. His sentences, although full of commas and semicolons, flow smoothly from line to line. He uses a lot of clauses and qualifications in his writing. Each stanza remains fresh, never becoming mundane or repetitive. He chooses words carefully, painting pictures with broad, smooth strokes rather than wispy phrases that are hard to follow.
In his poem entitled “Grief”, Williams accurately describes his grief at the loss of a loved one. In Part One, the feeling is heavy and overwhelming. The speaker, (most likely Williams), recalls days of sitting bedside with a slow-dying love. Some writers waste time in getting to the heart of the poem, but Williams wastes none. In the first line, he leaves his readers with no question as to what is going on in the poem. He writes, “Gone now, after the days of desperate, unconscious gasping, the reflexive / staying alive,” (29). All readers are instantaneously reminded of an experience with watching a loved one pass slowly, perhaps painfully.
In Part Two of the poem, Williams questions grief as an emotion. He tries to indicate what exactly the emotion of grief entails, and maybe even what it should be. He comes to the conclusion that grief is not clear-cut, but rather like a roller coaster ride, up and down, coming and going in unexpected waves. Readers can identify with this, as we all know that grief is not an apparent emotion such as joy or pain. But rather, grief can sweep over us unexpectedly at times and in places when we least expect it. Williams writes, “Is this grief? Tears took me, then ceased; the wish to die, too, may have / fled through me, / but not more than with any moment’s despair, the old, surging wish to / be freed, finished.” (30). He perfectly illustrates the intense, sweeping emotion that we all know as grief. (Sidenote: Before I read this poem, I had never read anything that describes grief in such and accurate way. Breathtaking.)
Part Three personifies the poem (although in the subtitle we learn that it is about his mother). His mother, although dying, is concerned about her makeup. He tells of her putting on her makeup, and calls it out as her moment to intensely focus on her own face. Williams writes, “…my mother puts on her morn- / ing makeup; / the broad, deft strokes of foundation, the blended-in rouge, powder, eye / shadow, lipstick; / that concentration with which you must gaze at yourself, that ravenous, unfaltering focus”. He feels grief for his mother before she has even died, “for whatever she thought her face had to be” (31).
In the final stanza, Williams’ style almost becomes like a...