William Carlos Williams

Here you will find the Long Poem from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower of poet William Carlos Williams

from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
 like a buttercup
 upon its branching stem-
save that it's green and wooden-
 I come, my sweet,
 to sing to you.
We lived long together
 a life filled,
 if you will,
with flowers. So that
 I was cheered
 when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
 in hell.
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers
 that we both loved,
 even to this poor
colorless thing-
 I saw it
 when I was a child-
little prized among the living
 but the dead see,
 asking among themselves:
What do I remember
 that was shaped
 as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
 with tears.
 Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
 though too weak a wash of crimson
 colors it
to make it wholly credible.
 There is something
 something urgent
I have to say to you
 and you alone
 but it must wait
while I drink in
 the joy of your approach,
 perhaps for the last time.
And so
 with fear in my heart
 I drag it out
and keep on talking
 for I dare not stop.
 Listen while I talk on
against time.
 It will not be
 for long.
I have forgot
 and yet I see clearly enough
central to the sky
 which ranges round it.
 An odor
springs from it!
 A sweetest odor!
 Honeysuckle! And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
 and a whole flood
 of sister memories!
Only give me time,
 time to recall them
 before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
When I was a boy
 I kept a book
 to which, from time
to time,
 I added pressed flowers
 until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
 The asphodel,
among them.
 I bring you,
a memory of those flowers.
 They were sweet
 when I pressed them
and retained
 something of their sweetness
 a long time.
It is a curious odor,
 a moral odor,
 that brings me
near to you.
 The color
 was the first to go.
There had come to me
 a challenge,
 your dear self,
mortal as I was,
 the lily's throat
 to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
 I thought,
 held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
 in an apple blossom.
 The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
 The whole world
 became my garden!
But the sea
 which no one tends
 is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
 and the waves
 are wakened.
I have seen it
 and so have you
 when it puts all flowers
to shame.
 Too, there are the starfish
 stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
 and weeds. We knew that
 along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
 knew its rose hedges
 to the very water's brink.
There the pink mallow grows
 and in their season
and there, later,
 we went to gather
 the wild plum.
I cannot say
 that I have gone to hell
 for your love
but often
 found myself there
 in your pursuit.
I do not like it
 and wanted to be
 in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
 from books
 and out of them
about love.
 is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
 which can be attained,
 I think,
in its service.
 Its guerdon
 is a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.
 If no one came to try it
 the world
would be the loser.
 It has been
 for you and me
as one who watches a storm
 come in over the water.
 We have stood
from year to year
 before the spectacle of our lives
 with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
 plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
 is placid,
 blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
 It is a flower
 that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
 We danced,
 in our minds,
and read a book together.
 You remember?
 It was a serious book.
And so books
 entered our lives.
The sea! The sea!
 when I think of the sea
there comes to mind
 the Iliad
 and Helen's public fault
that bred it.
 Were it not for that
 there would have been
 no poem but the world
 if we had remembered,
 those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,
 would have called it simply
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
 sending so many
men to their graves
 has left its memory
 to a race of fools
or heroes
 if silence is a virtue.
 The sea alone
with its multiplicity
 holds any hope.
 The storm
has proven abortive
 but we remain
 after the thoughts it roused
 re-cement our lives.
 It is the mind
the mind
 that must be cured
 short of death's
 and the will becomes again
 a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
 in our lives