In his poem The Young Housewife, William Carlos Williams uses a series of images to capture a fleeting moment in time, an emotion of admiration and desire. As a man who has endured a few heartbreaks and regrets in life, I identified with the contrite and “solitary” speaker who watches a struggling woman whom he used to love (4). The poem’s main focus is this young woman; newly married, who was most likely involved with the speaker in the past. In the first stanza, Williams gives the reader a glimpse of the woman in "her husband's house" (3). His description is somewhat voyeuristic as he depicts the woman “at ten A.M. […] in negligee behind / the wooden walls,” but yet somehow he is still able to see her (1, 2-3). Whether he is literally seeing her move about the house in her undergarments or if it is just in his imagination is unknown to the reader. Although this seems purely lustful, I believe the speaker has more innocent feelings than are apparent. He sees her, the woman whom he once treasured and desired, living a mundane life with an ungrateful spouse. I can imagine that this would be quite difficult to watch. Having witnessed past sweethearts make imprudent decisions and live consequently unhappy lives, I know how it can be unsettling. The speaker “pass[es] solitary in [his] car,” feeling empathy for her, but unable to lend aid (4). This is a very relatable situation that most ex-lovers will face; a sense of distance and a resulting feeling of helplessness.
As the poem goes on, the speaker and reader alike grow more empathetic toward the woman because the idea that she is unappreciated by her husband becomes more apparent. First, it is unusual that she is still clad in sleepwear, possibly lingerie, so late in the morning. It may be that the young lady is an object of lust to her husband. It is also a point of interest that negligee sounds so phonetically similar to neglected. Additionally, since the speaker refers to the woman as living behind the walls of her husband’s house we can infer that she may be an embarrassment to him as well as merely an object of his own desire, lacking simple rights such as ownership or individuality. The speaker commiserates with her, but compares her to a “fallen leaf,” having no life left (9).
It appears later in the poem that the woman sees the speaker briefly as she walks down to the curb to perform her daily tasks such as “call[ing] the ice-man, fish-man” (6). He describes her as “stand[ing] shy, uncorseted, tucking in stray ends of hair” (6-7, 8) She most likely feels self-conscious, undesirable and uncomfortable seeing him as she appears so disheveled. We can infer that the speaker is still attracted to her as he initially notices her chest not held tight by a corset. He then compares her once again...