Sunday, September 14, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "Smell!" by William Carlos Williams

The Songs of Eretz MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for September 14, 2014 is "Smell!" by William Carlos Williams.  The poem was first published in 1917 in Williams' collection Al Que Quiere!  It is, therefore, in the public domain and legally reprinted here.  A link to an audio recording by the poet may be found here:  Williams was the Songs of Eretz Poet of the Month for August 2014.  A brief biography and references may be found here:

William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?

"Smell!" is a modern take on the sonnet form.  It contains fourteen lines, and although it is not broken up into stanzas, if it were to be, the easiest and most logical way would be to break it up into three quatrains and a final couplet.  Seen in this light, the form most closely resembles the Shakespearean sonnet, complete with a modern take on a final heroic couplet, here using Whitmanian anaphora instead of rhyming iambic pentameter.

The topic of "Smell!" mocks the usual theme of the Shakespearean sonnet, concentrating on the less seemly aspects of the olfactory organ and upon sex (dirty or smelly sex) rather than love.  The substitution or metaphor of the nose for the male organ is apparent in the use of "strong-ridged," and "deeply hollowed," and the assonant "bony nose," as well as perhaps "indiscriminate," and "unashamed," and "quicken our desires," and finally the pun in the penultimate line on "know."  Don't believe me?  Just substitute "penis" for "nose" and what the penis does for "smelling" in the second line.

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