“A”-17

12-13 March 1963

 

This movement was written in response to WCW’s death on 4 March 1963. When first published in Poetry 103.1 & 3 (Oct.-Nov. 1963), the editor, Henry Rago, noted that “When Louis Zukofsky sent us his Coronal he hoped that Flossie Williams might see it in print in time for William Carlos Williams’s 80th birthday, September 17th [WCW born 1883]. This issue of Poetry [featuring long poems and sequences] seemed to us the right place for it; we trust that it comes out near enough to that date to be an observance. Mr. Zukofsky writes: ‘The intervening movements of “A” (following 13 which has been printed) are still notes—largely in my head, and may take some years to write down. I try not to hurry “A” but let its form happen. But when I felt the need to gather the enclosure shortly after Bill’s death, I skipped a few movements in my long poem to make the number of this movement correspond with the day of his birth. Other movements of “A” were not written in chronological order, trusting the sequence would work out. And that’s the form of it, I suppose’” (Contributors 140).

Note on the text: The layout of “A”-17 in the complete “A” has been copied from the book publication of “A” 12-21 (1969), which unfortunately takes some liberties in fitting the quotations on the pages. The original journal publication of “A”-17 in Poetry (Oct.-Nov. 1963) follows the typescript far more closely and visually has a much neater and less cramped look. All the entries should be clearly indented to the right of the dates on the left, rather than intrude toward the left margin as in the case of the prose excerpts on page 378 and 382. Also there should be no irregularity in the layout of the poem spread out over three pages (383-385) for 1954. On page 381, there should be a space after the parenthetical date for the music to “Choral: The Pink Church,” since “to Williams…” begins a separate entry. The Poetry version is available online at the Poetry Foundation site and is a reliable guide to further minor differences.

 

377.1    A CORONAL: a crown, wreath, or garland (CD). See 377.4.

377.2    for Floss: Florence Herman Williams (1890-1976), married WCW 12 Dec. 1912.

377.3    Anemones: a widely distributed genus of herbaceous perennials, the wind-flowers, natural order Ranunculaceoe; the flowers are showy, readily varying in color and becoming double in cultivation. See 16.276.3.

377.4    “But we ran ahead of it all…: through 377.9 from WCW’s poem “A Coronal” (Collected Poems I, 124), originally published in The Little Review (Jan. 1920), then in Sour Grapes (1921) and included in WCW’s Collected Poems, 1921-1931 (The Objectivist Press, 1934), largely edited by LZ according to WCW (see I Wanted to Write a Poem 52):
New books of poetry will be written
New books and unheard of manuscripts
will come wrapped in brown paper
and many and many a time
the postman will bow
and sidle down the leaf-plastered steps
thumbing over other men’s business.


But we ran ahead of it all.
One coming after
could have seen her footprints
in the wet and followed us
among the stark chestnuts.


Anemones sprang where she pressed
and cresses
stood green in the slender source—
And new books of poetry
will be written
, leather-colored oakleaves
many and many a time.

377.10  Not boiling to put pen to paper…: quoted from 1.4.11-12; the following two lines are quoted from WCW’s A Voyage to Pagany (1928) and refer to J.S. Bach (see 1.4.17-18).

377.15  … art’s high effort…: see CSP 35. This 1928 poem refers to Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s famous painting “The Harvesters,” thus anticipating WCW’s own Brueghel poems “The Dance” in The Wedge (1944) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962). For WCW’s take on the same painting, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, see “The Corn Harvest” (Collected Poems II 389-390). See 8.66.15, 13.377.19.

378.1    The melody! The rest is accessory…: quoted from 6.24.20-25 and then later reworked as the opening of LZ’s “Program” for the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry (Feb. 1931); see Prep+ 189.

378.9    In a work most indigenously of these States…: see Prep+ 198; originally published in the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry (Feb. 1931).

378.19  … The principle of varying the stress of a regular meter…: see Prep+ 138, 150-151; LZ’s ellipses indicate that he is quoting from the original rather than revised Prepositions version of the essay, published in The Symposium 2.1 (Jan. 1931).

378.32  MARCH: WCW’s poem was published in Sour Grapes (1921); however, the version that appears in An “Objectivists” Anthology (1931), which LZ indicates by the page numbers, is actually in the “Collaborations” section and about half has been extensively rewritten by LZ. An earlier version of this poem was pruned by H.D. for its original publication in The Egoist (1916), and the letter giving her justifications for doing so was reproduced by WCW in his Preface to Kora in Hell (see WCW, Collected Poems I, 493-494), although WCW protested, he in fact accepted almost all of her deletions. It may also be significant that LZ and WCW first met via correspondence in March 1928 at EP’s prompting, a point LZ recalls in “The Best Human Value” for WCW written for the Nation (31 May 1958), where he also mentions that WCW claimed March was his month (Prep+ 46); see EP/LZ 7 and WCW/LZ 3f.

378.34  “who has / a / taste…: from Song 27 (“Song—3/4 time”) (CSP 58 and 61). The poem’s composition is dated 8 Dec. 1933 and therefore it is unlikely that the “friend’s birthday” was that of WCW, which is 17 Sept. It is perhaps relevant that at this time LZ was intimately involved in the final preparations for the publication of WCW’s Collected Poems 1921-1931, which came out in Jan. 1934 (see WCW/LZ 174-175). The quoted lines are worked from Marx, Capital, see notes.

379.13  names are sequent to the things named: epigraph to “‘Mantis,’ An Interpretation” (CSP 67) where LZ also gives the original Latin, “Nomina sunt consequential rerum,” from Chap. XIII of Dante, La Vita Nuova.

379.15  Is the poem then, a sestina…: see CSP 70. “‘Mantis,’ An Interpretation” was instigated by WCW’s doubts about the sestina form of “‘Mantis,’” expressed in the lines LZ quotes at 379.21-22, slightly revised from a remark WCW made in a 30 Oct. 1943 letter: “I myself dread the implications of too regular form—our world will not stand it. The result of the implied comparison being unreality. This is usually interpreted as falsity” (WCW/LZ 202). The end of this passage presumably heeds WCW’s strictures on symbolism as quoted in the passage from “Sincerity and Objectification” at 378.9.

380.4    1869. A Chapter of Erie…: quoted from 8.76.9, 20-21; for the explanation of the connection with WCW see Prep+ 47 and note at 15.374.6.

380.8    The white chickens of 24b…: see TP 101, commenting on WCW’s red wheelbarrow poem from Spring and All (1923).

380.13  They were together now in the time…: these quotations are from the last 3 pages of “Ferdinand” (CF 262-264), about which WCW expressed dissatisfaction, although LZ evidently did not change his mind (see WCW/LZ 287-288, 304-305). WCW mentions stone Aztec calendars in In the American Grain (107) and The Decent of Winter (Collected Poems I, 295).

380.28  If number, measure and weighing…: from Anew 14 (CSP 85); quoting Plato, Philebus (see notes). LZ sent this poem to WCW on 24 Jan. 1942, to which WCW commented that although he did not get the beginning, he liked the latter half including the section LZ quotes (WCW/LZ 310-313). The same quotation from Plato appears in “Poetry/For My Son When He Can Read” (1946) with an extensive discussion that illuminates what LZ understands by “measure” (Prep.+ 6-7)

380.32  You three:—: from Anew 42 (CSP 99). WCW is presumably one of the three referred to, probably “the one who still writes to me.” WCW remarked on receiving this poem: “The best you have ever written, in my calm opinion” (dated 29 May 1943; WCW/LZ 334), and singled it out for particular praise in his review-essay of Anew, “A New Line Is a New Measure” (The New Quarterly of Poetry 2.2, Winter 1947/48), which he concludes by quoting the four-page poem entire. The quoted remark is from WCW’s review: “In this poem, all Zukofsky’s art, that is to say, his life, has fruited” (Something to Say 169), although the review was written some years later in March-June 1946 (WCW/LZ 368, 374-380).

381.2    THE WEDGE / [to] L.Z.: LZ was heavily involved in the editing and shaping of this important collection of poems, which WCW acknowledged by dedicating the volume to him. See Ahearn in WCW/LZ 549-554; Neil Baldwin, “Zukofsky, Williams, and The Wedge”; Sandra Kumanoto Stanley, “The Link between Williams and Zukofsky.”

381.13  Choral: The Pink Church: see WCW, Collected Poems II, 177-180. As noted, CZ wrote music for WCW’s poem, which was included along with the original publication of the poem in Briarcliff Quarterly (Oct. 1946), as well as in The Pink Church (Columbus, OH: Golden Goose Press, 1949).

381.16  “… all gentleness and its / enduring …”: from WCW’s “To All Gentleness” (Collected Poems II, 68), which was included in The Wedge (see 381.2). This phrase was one of a short catalog of quotations appended to the end of the original version of LZ’s “Poetry / For My Son When He Can Read” (Prep+ 217), first published in Cronos 2.4 (March 1948). WCW mentions revising this poem in response to LZ’s suggestion in a 24 Oct. 1943 letter that also congratulates LZ on the birth of PZ (WCW/LZ 343).

381.26  PATERSON (Book One): published June 1946.

381.27  Aristotle knew that…: see Prep+ 48, 49, 51. This is probably mis-dated and was first published in “Poetry in a Modern Age,” ostensibly a review of Vivienne Koch’s William Carlos Williams, Poetry 76.3 (June 1950); then published under the title LZ gives here in The Massachusetts Review (1962), and finally collected as part II of “William Carlos Williams” in Prepositions (1967). For further information on the dating question, see notes to Prepositions. On “a this” see 12.163.22 and index to Bottom.

382.1    “Constitution Day…: this letter is in WCW/LZ 404, which includes WCW’s response to CZ at more length. Although written, CZ’s music apparently was never published as, understandably, Floss Williams was unhappy with the poem; “Turkey in the Straw” is in WCW, Collected Poems II, 231.

382.18  W / Ah, my craft, it is as Homer says…: part III of “Chloride of Lime and Charcoal” (CSP 127); this section of the poem is quoted complete and largely consists of two adapted quotations from the Odyssey (see notes). Evidently, LZ sent this with a dedicatory letter (possibly the “Old Note” of 381.27) to WCW, who forwarded both to James Laughlin, but the latter never published either (WCW/LZ 417).

383.1    William / Carlos / Williams / alive!: see CSP 148-151 (see notes). The poem was written in response to an 8 May 1946 letter from WCW mentioning that he was reading with interest a biography of Billy the Kid (WCW/LZ 373).

386.1    That song / is the kiss…: from “4 Other Countries” on the Zukofskys’ European trip in the summer 1957 (CSP 180-181, 190-191). WCW was enthusiastic on receiving this poem: “I mean it, I’m going to stop writing forever unless and until I can somewhat imitate you as you have written this poem—and that’s not to be. I am warmed at this poem to the roots of my being” (WCW/LZ 501).  The second passage LZ quotes clearly evokes EP, who frequently refers to the tomb of Galla Placidia in The Cantos. Galla Placidia (c. 388-450) was empress with Theodorius I (c.346-395) of the Western Roman Empire, and her vaulted tomb, located next to the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, is adorned with famous mosaics in whose designs gold-lead tesserae are used extensively. Cf. Pound’s lines, “In the gloom, the gold gathers the light against it” (11/51) and “Gold fades in the gloom / Under the blue-black roof, Placidia” (21/98); see also 17/78. Similarly the mention of the peacock’s cry alludes to another famous passage in the Pisan Cantos recalling William Butler Yeats composing: “proide ov his oy-ee / as indeed he had, and perdurable / a great peacock aere perennius” (Canto 83/ 533-534). The first two stanzas of the first excerpt were incorporated into Robert Duncan’s “After Reading Barely and Widely” (The Opening of the Field (1960): 89), to which LZ had responded in “Her Face the Book of—Love Delights in—Praises” (CSP 205-207).

387.1    Passer, deliciae meae puellae…: the opening L. line of Catullus, Carmina 2 with LZ’s Catullus translation of the entire poem (CSP 245). LZ sent the versions of the first three Catullus poems with dedications to WCW and Floss Williams on 6 June 1958 (WCW/LZ 495), possibly the first outsiders to see the Catullus project. WCW’s poem, “Sappho, Be Comforted” (Collected Poems II, 433-434), opens with the image of a sparrow being caressed by a woman that is clearly indebted to the opening lines of this, one of Catullus’ most famous poems, although in their rendition the Zukofskys askew this particular detail. WCW’s poem is included in Pictures from Brueghel (1962) but was previously published in 1957.

387.14  Dear Bill, / This is, as you will find out, for the nation…: see Prep+ 45, where “The Nation” is capitalized indicating it was originally written for publication in The Nation 186.22 (31 May 1958) as “The Best Human Value.” Paterson V was published in 1958.

387.20  (In Karel van Mander’s painting…: see Bottom 185; this and the following two passages cover the three references to WCW in the index to Bottom. Karel (or Carel) van Mander (1548-1606), Dutch artist whose painting, “Chess Portrait,” dated 1604 and done while he was in England for James I’s coronation, depicts two chess players who have often, if not definitively, been identified as Jonson and Shakespeare. Paul Mariani mentions that WCW had a reproduction of this painting on the wall of his attic workroom and that WCW “was convinced [it] had been painted from life (it was his secret image of the self-effacing Shakespeare with whom he identified)” (WCW: A New World Naked, McGraw-Hill, 1981: 298).

387.28  “the living tongue resembled that tree…: see Bottom 192. LZ notes that the quoted material is from James Russell Lowell’s essay, “Shakespeare Once More” (1868). WCW’s “The Botticellian Trees” (1931) begins: “The alphabet of / the trees // is fading in the / song of the leaves” (WCW, Collected Poems I, 348), and this poem was included in the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry (Feb. 1931).

387.33  “—they had eyes . . / —and saw…: see Bottom 262; through 388.2 from WCW’s Paterson V (Paterson 224, 330). The first three lines LZ quotes are significantly truncated; WCW’s version reading: “—they had eyes for visions / in those days—and saw, / saw with their proper eyes […].”

388.3    Grand entr’oeil, et regard joly: see Bottom 262; from François Villon’s Le Testament, “Les regrets de la belle Hëaulmiere” (The Lament of the Belle Heaulmiere): “wide spaced eyes and pretty glance.” In Bottom, LZ follows the above lines from WCW’s Paterson V (387.33-388.2) with a sequence of quotations from Villon, Shakespeare and Chaucer; it is not clear whether these were included in an earlier version of Paterson V or, more likely, are LZ’s analogous additions.

388.5    Pretty / Look down out how pretty…: see CSP 232 (see notes). It may be relevant, especially in light of the final word “mechanics,” that WCW gave a talk to LZ’s engineering students at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute on 14 Nov. 1949, in which he spoke of the poem in terms of mechanics (see WCW, Autobiography (1951): 311). LZ recounts an anecdote from this visit in “A”-15.362.17-363.3.

388.20  Ille mi par esse deo videtur…: see CSP 269. The first L. line of Catullus’ Carmina 51 translates: “He seems to me to be equal to a god…” (trans. F.W. Cornish). This poem is Catullus’ famous version of a famous Sappho fragment. WCW translated Sappho’s poem and published it in three different venues in 1957 before placing it at the beginning of Part II of Paterson V (Paterson 215), which came out in 1958. There are modest differences between some of these versions (see Collected Poems II, 348, 498-499).

388.34  Pictures from Brueghel…: WCW’s last volume of poetry was published in 1962 and posthumously won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. WCW died 4 March 1962. The awkward signature indicates the physical difficulties he had following a series of strokes beginning in 1951. LZ is explicitly mentioned in the poem “To My Friend Ezra Pound” included in the volume (Collected Poems II, 434) and had a hand in revising at least one of the poems, “The Parable of the Blind” (Collected Poems II, 391); see 10 Aug. 1959 note to LZ (WCW/LZ 511).