The Poetry of William Carlos Williams

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11971

When you think of poetry, do you think of lofty, rhyming, rhythmic paeans to important people, or picturesque chronicles of Creation? How about your normal life? Learn how poetic that just might be!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What occupation do you think the poet William Carlos Williams had for forty years? You mean "Poet" isn't really an occupation? What do you think?

 William Carlos Williams

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code

William Carlos Williams was an unconventional twentieth-century American poet.

Although he wrote both poetry and prose, he was also a practicing family doctor for forty years in Rutherford, New Jersey. As a member of the middle-class, Williams wrote about suburban life and captured the language of the patients with whom he interacted. Although Williams's parents had wanted Williams to pursue a stable career in medicine, Williams was drawn to the creative energy of poetry as a teenager.

Although he was frustrated over the lack of recognition his poetry received throughout much of his life, he worked with influential poets in the early twentieth century, such as H.D. and Ezra Pound, and he became a mentor to the mid-twentieth-century poets, including Allen Ginsburg, until his death on March 4, 1963.

Read the following biography, William Carlos Williams, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, on the life and career of William Carlos Williams. As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • How did Williams's parents influence Williams when he was a child?
  • With what influential poet did Williams strike up a friendship?
  • With what literary movement did Williams become affiliated, and what was the purpose of this movement?
  • What subject often inspired the topics in Williams's poems?
  • Why did Williams want the language of his poems to mirror modern American speech?
  • Why did Williams take a ten-year hiatus from publishing poetry?
  • What was the purpose of Williams's use of the variable foot in his poetry?
  • Why did the mood of Williams's poetry change in the 1940s until his death in 1963?

When you have finished answering the questions, share your answers with your parent or teacher, then check them below:

  • Williams's parents inspired Williams with a love of the creative arts, but also a reverence for hard work and success though the pursuit of a more traditional career.
  • Early in his literary career, Williams became friends with Ezra Pound.
  • Through Pound, Williams joined the Imagist movement, whose goal was to break away from the strict literary conventions and structures used in nineteenth-century poetry.
  • Williams often wrote about suburban life, inspired by the stories of his patients at his medical practice.
  • He also wanted to capture modern American diction in his poems, so they were accessible for the average reader and captured the essence of the American language.
  • Upset by the success of the poet T.S. Eliot in the 1920s, Williams only published prose for a decade before finally returning to poetry.
  • In his later career, Williams used the variable foot, which was an irregular way to divide a line of poetry through the use of hyphens as well as creating different length lines, to better capture patterns of American speech.
  • The mood of Williams's later poetry was darker than some of his earlier poems due to the ill health Williams experienced for the last two decades of his life.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of having another career for a writer? Discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher, then move on to the Got It? section to read several of Williams's poems.

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