Monday, April 21, 2008

the rose is obsolete

Whenever I discuss with my students William Carlos Williams' poem "the rose is obsolete" (from Spring and All (1923), we begin with our sense of the rose as it is. Is it just a rose? No, the students say, it's become a huge commercialized symbol. WCW wanted a new rose, the rose that is the rose, the non- or pre-symbolic rose, "Sharper, neater, more cutting..." He wanted an infinite, endless rose, a rose that was somehow not really soft--made of "copper" or "steel." A wonderful adult student in one of my all-online versions of English 88 - a businessman who lives in China and does his business all around east Asia - took some time to create the Hallmark Card image of the poem's position. Here it is, above. And here, below, is the opening of the poem:

The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air--The edge
cuts without cutting
itself in metal or porcelain--

whither? It ends--

But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses
becomes a geometry--