The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

William Carlos Williams


William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and physician.

His work is commonly associated with modernist movements like Imagism.

Throughout ‘The Widow’s Lament in Springtime’ by William Carlos Williams the speaker uses an unemotional, flat tone to describe the natural imagery that’s at the heart of this piece. The lines often feel cut short or disjointed. A technique that is accomplished through the use of enjambment. The themes are quite clear. They include mourning/sorrow, life/death, and nature. 


Summary of The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

‘The Widow’s Lament in Springtime’ by William Carlos Williams is a beautiful, yet dark poem, that depicts a widow’s depression after losing her husband. 

The poet takes on the voice of a widowed woman. She describes through symbolic images of flowers and trees the experience of her loss. Her husband has died and now she is left in a world that once held him and does no longer. When she thinks about the things that used to give her pleasure, like the flowers, she turns away. Nothing is the same anymore and any flames that burn within her are “cold” rather than warm with passion. The poem concludes with the speaker alluding to a desire to sink into the earth and join her husband. 


Structure of The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime’ by William Carlos Williams is a twenty-eight line elegy that is contained within one stanza of text. The poem is written in free verse. This means that there is no standard rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, that doesn’t mean the poem is completely devoid of rhyme, rhythm, or other literary devices. This modern twist on a pastoral elegy features a speaker using familiar images of nature to mourn the death of her husband. The widow’s monologue is depressing and without light at the end of the tunnel. 


Literary Devices in The Widow’s Lament in Springtime 

Williams uses several literary devices in ‘The Widow’s Lament in Springtime’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, oxymoron, enjambment, and alliteration. The latter, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “flames” and “flamed” in line three (a good example of repetition) and “fall” and “flowers” in line twenty-seven. 

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There is a great example in the first lines of the poem when the speaker says that her “Sorrow” is her yard. Her yard, which she once tended and lovingly took care of, is now cold and passionless. 

An oxymoron is a short phrase or compound word that uses contradictory words to emphasize a point. For example, “cold fire” in the fifth line of this poem. It plays into the image of the cold “flames” that are growing this year in the widow’s yard. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. It can be seen throughout this poem. For example, the transition between lines nine and ten as well as that between eleven and twelve. 


Analysis of The Widow’s Lament in Springtime 

Lines 1-8 

Sorrow is my own yard

where the new grass

flames as it has flamed

often before but not

with the cold fire

that closes round me this year.

Thirtyfive years

I lived with my husband.

In the first lines of this poem the speaker, a woman who has recently lost her husband, begins by using a metaphor to depict her “Sorrow” as her “own yard”. She is surrounded by it. The grass is still growing there, as “flames”. This word was likely chosen in order to depict the physical shape of the grass but it also hints at something dangerous and foreboding. She is surrounded by these flames but this time something is different than it has been in the past. Her husband is gone. 

She was with him for “thirtyfive years” and now that is no longer the case. Her world has changed and now the “cold fire” of this very different year is closing around her. The fire of the yard has lost its heat. 


Lines 9-19

The plumtree is white today

with masses of flowers.

Masses of flowers

load the cherry branches

and color some bushes

yellow and some red

but the grief in my heart

is stronger than they

for though they were my joy

formerly, today I notice them

and turn away forgetting.

In the next lines of the ‘The Widow’s Lament in Springtime,’ the speaker describes a “plumtree” and the various blooms that are blossoming around her. These flowers are blooming just like they used to but they don’t bring her the pleasure that they did in the past. They are brightly colored “yellow and some red” but her grief is overwhelming any happiness she might’ve taken from them in the past. It is “stronger than they”. This shows the complete transformation that her life has undergone since this loss. 

She “turn[s] away forgetting” the flowers, which are clearly a symbol of her previous happy state, and enters deeper into her new depression. 


Lines 20-28 

Today my son told me

that in the meadows,

at the edge of the heavy woods

in the distance, he saw

trees of white flowers.

I feel that I would like

to go there

and fall into those flowers

and sink into the marsh near them.

In the final eight lines of ‘The Widow’s Lament in Springtime,’ the speaker refers to her “son”. The poet uses the son and what he saw when he was in the woods, as a conduit for the speaker to bring the lines to a close. She describes how he told her about “white flowers” that are blooming in trees in the forest. This is an image that entrances and attracts her. It immediately makes her think that she’d “like / to go there”. Unlike most elegies, at least those written in the 1800s, this particular poem does not provide the reader with an uplifting ending. Rather, the speaker alludes to the pleasure she’d take at her own death. 

She alludes to this death through the image of her “fall into those flowers”. She speaks directly and longingly for the ability to “sink into the marsh near them”. It is her desire to disappear from this world and hopefully end up in one that is closer to the man she loved for so long and lost. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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