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Analysis Of Scientific Practice In The Poetry Of William Carlos Williams

2641 words - 11 pages

William Carlos Williams was not the first writer to explore the theme of scientific discovery and practise in literature, but he was one of the first American writers to do so in a positive manner. Works of European gothic literature had cemented the archetype of the mad scientist with figures such as Dr Frankenstein and Dr Moreau; while the birth and subsequent success of Science Fiction in the U.S with the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe show us that the American people also had anxieties regarding the potential of science. It seems expected that Williams, a man who spent most of his professional life practising as a Doctor, would be instrumental in breaking this taboo. In this essay, I shall be examining the way in which Williams and those who followed him chose to depict the scientific world, and how the practices of that world influence the style and structure of their work.
In poems such as ‘The Poor’ Williams explores the relationship between the working classes and the presence of science in the community, questioning the necessity of the mistrust often associated with it. ‘The Poor’ shows a community’s gradual acceptance of their school physician, who they initially loathe for the ‘reminders of the lice in/their children's hair’ – the community seem to be intent upon projecting their anger at their own medical ailments on the physician’s medical knowledge making them visible. Thus knowledge itself becomes diseased. The trigger for the physician’s acceptance is not, as one might hope, a sudden realisation of his value to the community, or an abandonment of their prejudices - but merely the passing of time making them accustomed to their hatred, ‘But by this familiarity/they grew used to him, and so,/at last,/took him for/their friend and adviser.’ In this short, didactic poem, Williams demonstrates the unfortunate way in which scientific development is eventually accepted in society – not by understanding but by habit.
Williams seems to challenge this prejudice by using scientific terminology and themes alongside that of traditional beauty. In ‘Light Becomes Darkness’ much of that beauty comes from the familiar - though fragmenting – religious imagery, and widely enjoyed technological advancements that gave rise to cinema: ‘the decay of cathedrals/is efflorescent/through the phenomenal/growth of movie houses/whose catholicity is /progress since/ destruction and creation/are simultaneous ’. Here Williams conveys the notion of cinema becoming the moral pinnacle that the church once was to the American people by using the language of chemistry; ‘efflorescent’ – a word which carries with it both a hard scientific meaning (the forming of a powder-like deposit) and a more romantic meaning, ‘to blossom’ . By picking out a word which joins the two worlds of chemistry and verse, Williams makes scientific language aesthetically pleasurable palatable to the reader. Alongside this reconciling of the chemical with the sentimental,...

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