William Carlos Williams

Writer's Prologue to a Play in Verse

In your minds you jump from doors
to sad departings, pigeons, dreams
of terror, to cathedrals; bowed,
repelled, knees quaking, to the-closed-
without-a-key or through an arch
an ocean that races full of sound
and foam to a lay a carpet for
your pleasure or a wood that waves 
releasing hawks and crows or
crowds that elbow and fight for
a place or anything. You see it
in your minds and the mind at once
jostles it, turns it about, examines
and arranges it to suit its fancy.
Or rather changes it after a pattern
which is the mind itself, turning
and twisting the theme until it gets
a meaning or finds no meaning and
is dropped. By such composition,
without code, the scenes we see move
and, as it may happen, make
a music, a poetry
which the poor poet copies if 
and only if he is able - to astonish
and amuse, for your delights,
in public, face to face with you
individually and secretly addressed.

We are not here, you understand,
but in the mind, that circumstance
of which the speech is poetry.
Then look, I beg of you, try and
look within yourselves rather than
at me for what I shall discover.
Yourselves! Within yourselves. 

me if you do not see there, alive!
a creature unlike the others, something
extraordinary in its vulgarity,
something strange, unnatural to
the world, that suffers the world poorly,
is tripped at home, disciplined at
the office, greedily eats money ---
for a purpose: to escape the tyranny
of lies. And is all they can think
of to amuse you, a ball game? Or
skiing in Van Diemen's land in August
--- to amuse you! Do you not come here
to escape that? For you are merely
distracted, not relieved in the blood,
deadened, defeated, stultified.

But this! is new. Believe it, be
proved presently by your patience.
Run through the public appearance
of it, to come out --- not stripped
but, if you'll pardon me, something
which in the mind you are and would
be yet have always been, unrecognized,
tragic and foolish, without a tongue,
That's it. Yourself, the thing
you are, speechless --- because there is
no language for it, shockingly revealed.

Would it disturb you if I said
you have no other speech than poetry?
You, yourself, I mean. There is
no other language for it than the poem
--- falsified by the critics until
you think it's something else, fight
it off, as idle, a kind of lie,
smelling of corpses, that the practical
world rejects. How could it be you?

Never! without invention. It is, if
you'll have patience, the undiscovered
language of yourself, which you avoid,
rich and poor, killed and killers,
a language to be coaxed out of poets ---
possibly, an intolerable language
that will frighten --- to which
you are not used. We must make it
easy for you, feed it to you slowly
until you let down the barriers,
relax before it. But it's easy
if you will allow me to proceed, it
can make transformations, give it
leave to do its work in you.

Accept the convention as you would
opera, provisionally; let me go ahead.
Wait to see if the revelation
happen. It may not.
Or it may come and go, small bits
at a time. But even the chips of it
are invaluable. Wait to learn
the hang of its persuasions as it makes
its transformations from the common
to the undisclosed and lays that open
where --- you will see a frightened face!

But believe! that poetry will be
in the terms you know, insist on that
and can and must break through everything,
all the outward forms, to re-dress
itself humbly in that which you
yourself will say is the truth, the
exceptional truth of ordinary people,
the extraordinary truth. You shall see.

It isn't masculine more than it is
feminine, it's not a book more than
it is speech; inside the mind, natural
to the mind as metals are to rock,
a gist, puppets which if they present
distinction it is from that hidden
dignity which they, by your leave,
reflect from you who are the play.

This is a play of a husband and a wife.
As you love your husband or your wife
or if you hate him of if you hate
her, watch the language! see if you
think that it expresses something of
the things, to your knowledge, that
take place in the mind and in the world
but seldom on the lips. This play
is of a woman and her lover, all
mixed up, of life and death and all
the secret language that runs through
those curious transactions, seldom
heard but in the deadest presentations
now respectfully unnaturalized.

For pleasure! pleasure, not for
cruelty but to make you laugh, until
you cry like General Washington
at the river. Seeing the travelers
bathing there who had their clothes
stolen, how he laughed! And how
you shall laugh to see yourselves
all naked, on the stage!

spoken = Leon Branton