The Beauty of Everyday Life

One of the traits I most admire in William Carlos Williams' The Collected Later Poems is Williams' ability to find beauty in common, everyday situations, and to describe that beauty in everyday language. It’s easy to find beauty at the beach or in the mountains, but it’s far easier to be overcome by the ugliness of everyday life than it is to find beauty in it.

”Ballad of Faith” brings back fond memories for me:

Ballad of Faith

No dignity without chromium
No truth but a glossy finish
If she purrs she’s virtuous
If she hits ninety she’s pure

ZZZZZZZZZZZ!
Step on the gas, brother
(the horn sounds hoarsely)

The poem reminds me of simpler days when I took pride in my bright yellow Mustang’s long hood and powerful V-8, days when I washed the car once a week rather than once a year, days when I only slowed down when the front end of the car lifted off the ground.

While I’ve never eaten the “small, yellow grass onion,” I can appreciate the kinds of simple foods, best disguised today as “comfort food:”

TO BE HUNGRY IS TO BE GREAT

The small, yellow grass-onion,
spring's first green, precursor
to Manhattan's pavements, when
plucked as it comes, in bunches,
washed, split and fried in
a pan, though inclined to be
a little slimy, if well cooked
and served hot on rye bread
is to beer a perfect appetizer-
and the best part
of it is they grow everywhere.

While unlikely to satisfy the palate of the connoisseur since they’re “inclined to be a little slimy,” such foods, especially when served with a beer, particular a dark, Nitro Stout, might well rival the taste of a Reuben. And if you’re not subject to a foolish addiction to the rare, unknown, and expensive, the fact that it grows everywhere might well make it even more desirable.

I must admit that even I am often overwhelmed by the ugliness of big cities, so I was pleasantly surprised by Williams’ “Approach to a City:”

APPROACH TO A CITY

Getting through with the world-
I never tire of the mystery
of these streets: the three baskets
of dried flowers in the high

bar-room window, the gulls wheeling
above the factory, the dirty
snow-the humility of the snow that
silvers everything and is

trampled and lined with use-yet
falls again, the silent birds
on the still wires of the sky, the blur
of wings as they take off

together. The flags in the heavy
air move against a leaden
ground-the snow
pencilled with the stubble of old

weeds: I never tire of these sights
but refresh myself there
always for there is small holiness
to be found in braver things.

It’s amazing that even in the ugliest, most run-down places someone attempts to invoke beauty’s magical charm, whether it’s “baskets of dried flowers” or plastic flowers exuding their own fresh plastic smell as counterpoint to the urinal disinfectant, another small sign of the artist’s spirit that lives within all of us. Just when it seems industry has banished all wildlife, flocks of gulls or pigeons will arrive, covering the wasteland in bird shit, proving once again that nature cannot be denied. No matter how ugly the wasteland, snow covers it beautifully, turning the sharp corners into voluptuous curves. As Williams points out, “there is a small holiness/ to be found in braver things.”

Perhaps I just like “A Rosebush in an Unlikely Garden” because my blog includes references to Vietnam and pictures of flowers:

A ROSEBUSH IN AN UNLIKELY GARDEN

The flowers are yours
the full blown
the half awakened
yours

who fished heads
and arms on D day in a net
from the bloody
river

The stillness
of this squalid corner this
veined achievement is
yours

Somehow this poem symbolizes the transcendence of beauty, of the human soul, over those events in life that threaten to overwhelm and demean us. What a startling, and beautiful, contrast between the soldier’s job on D-day and his attempts to grow flowers in his squalid corner of the universe.

One thought on “The Beauty of Everyday Life

  1. What a beautiful series of poems, so much more to my taste than mad ez.

    the dirty
    snow-the humility of the snow that
    silvers everything and is

    trampled and lined with use-yet
    falls again

    … such a magical image of hope. Thank you.

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