Love Song

Anyone who doubts whether so-called “free” verse is something more than prose should read aloud this poem by William Carlos Williams. Note the contrast between the slowing rhythm of “horned branches” and “smooth purple” on one side, and on the other the almost irritable alternating stresses of “that drips from leaf to leaf/ and limb to limb.” What the vowels and consonants do in the two last lines alone is as artful as any rhyme.

Also artful is the way Williams makes himself clear without needing to use the words “autumn” or “fall” or “October”; cutting angles like that, the speed and compression of how love is compared to the bright yellow of the foliage, epitomizes the thrill of poetry. “Selvage”—the techincal term for the thready, unfinished edge of fabric cut from the bolt—is a precise word for the sunset and also expresses, in its resourcefulness, the energy flowing out of the erotically restless poet. No sonorous clichés or fruity, predictable love poetry here: instead, heat, comedy, dash, and emotion.

—Robert Pinsky

I lie here thinking of you:—

The stain of love
is upon the world!
Yellow, yellow, yellow
it eats into the leaves,
smears with saffron
the horned branches that lean
against a smooth purple sky!
There is no light
only a honey-thick stain
that drips from leaf to leaf
and limb to limb
spoiling the colors
of the whole world—
you far off there, under
the wine-red selvage of the west!