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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1964. Department of English.


Copyright 1964, the author. Used by permission.


In my opinion, Paterson is neither a modern “epic” (though Williams was without a doubt influenced by such works), nor is it similar in overall scope and technique to anything else Williams himself has written.The distinguishing aspect of Paterson lies in Williams’ attempt to set forth his poetic theories through the medium of poetry—an attempt to both state and illustrate his poetics.The general body of Williams’ poetry, with the exception of Paterson, consists of short celebrations of the facts and “things” of the world; theorizing of any sort is scarce.His essays, though many of them center about the problems of writing poetry, by their nature cannot rival the dual purpose of Paterson.In addition, Paterson differs in being symbolic.Though Williams’ language in his prose works is often colored with colloquial metaphors, he rarely uses literary symbolism; and in his poetry his technique is more closely allied to Imagism than to symbolism.But in Paterson Williams manipulates a contrived set of symbols in order to convey a message which the symbols, however naturalistic, do not commonly signify.

Williams’ essays reveal his preoccupation with the problems facing the modern poet and artist, and are valuable to our understanding of Paterson.In addition, scattered statements that Williams has made concerning his aim in Paterson help to place the poem in its proper context. I believe Paterson is a study of the nature and technique of modern poetry, and that the various symbols and images of the poem can best be understood in that context.Williams has called Paterson “a plan for action”; that is perhaps the most appropriate general description of the poem, for Williams is as often prescriptive as descriptive.Nearly every page of the poem reveals Williams’ interest in the process of artistic creation and the relationship of poetry to human existence.

Unfortunately for the reader of Paterson, Williams’ theories of art and poetry are too often buried beneath his elusively metaphorical language and condensed syntax.Since Williams nowhere provides a formal outline of his poetics, the reader is at a further disadvantage and is even less likely (or indeed inclined) to solve the problems that arise out of Williams’ ambiguities.It is only by careful study, in which Williams’ scattered statements of theory are collated and categorized, that one may gain any very coherent notion of the “system” of his poetics.

It shall be my task to uncover the outlines of his poetic theory and to show how Paterson follows (structurally as well as thematically) the main argument of his aesthetic.

Advisor: Karl Shapiro