Analysis of Tract by William Carlos Williams
The poem “Tract” by William Carlos Williams, on the surface, is a criticism of an ostentatious funeral (Geddes 37). However, the poem does have a strong hidden message. “Tract” could very well be a direct criticism of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”(Geddes 123) and any other poem like it. In his poem, William Carlos Williams criticizes poets like Thomas for using too many stylistic formalities, thereby obscuring their poetry’s true literal content. He also scolds them for placing themselves into the poetry when, in his view, there really is no place for them there. Finally, he ends with an offering of recourse for all the poets like Thomas.
On the surface, the narrator in “Tract” is criticizing an overly ornate funeral. His purpose is to establish a new idiom in which cultural inhibitions are discarded. This purpose can also be applied to the poems’ hidden meaning; a criticism of Dylan Thomas’ work. When the narrator refers to his “townspeople,” what Williams might be implying is “my fellow poets.” He is addressing a small community; the poets of the world, and in this case, Dylan Thomas.
In Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” there is a very distinctive structure of repeated lines and rhythms called a villanelle (Shaeffer). William Carlos Williams’ poem strives to do away with such convention. His “design for a hearse” is really a design for a poem, which should be “not black- nor white and not polished…[but] weathered like a farm wagon- with gilt wheels.” With this, Williams might be saying that there should be no specific design; we should not have villanelles. This corresponds with his philosophy to reject poetic formalism (Geddes 34). It could also be a comment on using the common elements to create poetry. This would follow Williams’ philosophy that the subject matter of poetry should be centered on the everyday circumstances of life (poets.org).
According to Williams, a villanelle is a form of “gilt” that is there for decoration alone. This gilt can be applied to the wheels of the hearse or to a small portion of the poem, if so desired, by the poet without over-embellishment. This point is further emphasized with the line “ no upholstery, phew! And no little brass rollers and small easy wheels on the bottom.” These features refer to other stylistic conventions used by some poets. The narrator in “Tract” insists that “on this [a rough dray] the coffin should lie by its own weight.” This can be interpreted to say that the poem should be judged as good or bad solely on the basis of its literal meaning and content; not on pretence and frills injected into the art. Because of its rhyme scheme and syntax, Dylan Thomas’ poem seems to be elegant. If the sophisticated style were removed, what would the poem say? What kind of poem would it be without the rhyme scheme? These are questions asked by William Carlos Williams’ “Tract.”...