What is a Happy Genius?

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Poetry  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: April 12, 2017

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Submitted: April 12, 2017

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Alexcia Proeve

Professor McCartney

English 102

March 8th, 2017

“Danse Russe”

By William Carlos Williams

If I when my wife is sleeping (1)

and the baby and Kathleen (2)

are sleeping (3)

and the sun is a flame-white disc(4)

in silken mists (5)

above shining trees,— (6)

if I in my north room (7)

dance naked, grotesquely (8)

before my mirror (9)

waving my shirt round my head (10)

and singing softly to myself:(11)

“I am lonely, lonely. (12)

I was born to be lonely, (13)

I am best so!” (14)

If I admire my arms, my face, (15)

my shoulders, flanks, buttocks (16)

against the yellow drawn shades,— (17)

Who shall say I am not (18)

the happy genius of my household? (19)

What is a Happy Genius?-Revision

Danse Russe, a nineteen line narrative poem by William Carlos Williams and part of a collection of poems written in the book, The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, contains a main theme: appreciating what you have, in this case, your own body.  Although striking resemblances between the life of the Williams and the speaker’s life do occur, one can not assume the speaker and Williams share a role in the story.  However, Williams does draw inspiration from his life for this poem.  On the first read, this poem leaves an uncomfortable mark on the reader, but with further examination, the reader can find underlying meaning relatable on a personal level.

Williams won the first National Book Award for Poetry, recognizing both the third volume of Paterson and Selected Poems, born in 1883, he continued writing up until his death in 1963.  His pieces, mainly focussed on imagism, led to recognition during his lifetime.  Imagism, an ambitious and revolutionary movement respecting imagery and fine language, commonly misunderstood, left Williams mainly recognized by scholars and thus named an influential figure in the Imagist Movement.

Williams’ use of imagery displays his attention to detail and ability to evoke emotion in a reader. The words used by Williams mostly have positive connotations, including the title, lightening the mood of the poem despite it’s serious implications.  He intentionally creates a contradiction between the first few lines, the middle lines, and the last lines to build a light mood about a typically unpleasant subject: body image.  A notable example of Williams’ attempt to create a light mood: the poem’s title, Danse Russe, roughly translating to “Russian Dance” from French.  Seeing that Russian dancing, typically done in celebratory situations, it opposes the negative connotations of discussion about body image, Williams manages to give the reader a chance to see it in a positive light through his attentive use of vocabulary.

Williams begins the poem with the lines, If I when my wife is sleeping / and the baby and Kathleen / are sleeping immediately conjuring in the reader’s mind, an image of domesticity, as the speaker’s wife and daughters sleep in an adjacent room.  By beginning the poem with this image, the reader immediately assumes the speaker bore a family and has not aged much, one may interpret the poem’s theme as a family life.  Noting the speaker’s sleeping family members points to implications that the speaker recognizes his solitude and privacy.  This idea he inhabits a calm environment becomes profound by his use of imagery in the next three lines, and the sun is a flame-white disc, which describes early morning or noon.  Given that people tend to continue to sleep in the morning, one could assume accurately that his family continues to rest during the morning.  The next lines how the speaker describing the external conditions assuring the story takes place during a morning,  in silken mists / above shining trees,—.  Williams’ use of the words: “white,” “silken,” and “shining” evoke an image of early-morning, vitality, peacefulness, and liveliness.  These words contrast the idea Williams wrote about previously, destroying thoughts about the speaker’s family.

Williams begins to contrast the image of a peaceful environment with lines seven through eleven, if I in my north room  / dance naked, grotesquely / before my mirror  / waving my shirt round my head / and singing softly to myself.  Williams paints an initially disturbing picture of the speaker dancing before a mirror, waving his shirt above his head in an almost maniacal way while singing to himself.  This imagery takes away from the tranquil setting put forth in the first six lines with Williams’ use of the word “grotesquely.”  Despite how odd this action by the speaker may seem at first glance, humans dance like “nobody's around.” quite often.  Williams’ decision to reveal this intimate detail of the speaker’s life shows his devotion to draw the attention away from the speaker’s family and toward the speaker’s body image.

This serious side, further shown by the next few lines, invokes sadness within the reader: I am lonely, lonely. / I was born to be lonely, / I am best so! This image of the speaker lonely and content with so which does give off a negative feeling.  However, Williams’ intentions include to connect the reader with the harsh reality of life: that we, all born alone, will all die alone in the end and it’s best that way. This dark theme soon countered by the next few lines of the poem, again displaying a deliberate use of contrasting terminology to emphasize the true message of the poem: to appreciate your flaws.

Williams continues the poem with the lines If I admire my arms, my face, / my shoulders, flanks, buttocks / against the yellow drawn shades,— The speaker, admiring their body, not specific parts but their body as a whole, does not make it clear at first that the speaker’s admiration remains with not exclusively those parts.  However seeing that the theme of this poem: body image, one could infer the speaker stands to refer about himself entirely.

Williams ends the poem with the most important lines, Who shall say I am not / the happy genius of my household? These last two lines sum up the poem and end it in a thought-provoking manner. Leaving the reader to figure out what Williams means by “happy genius of my household?” Once again, seeing the theme of this poem: body image, as opposed to family, one could infer that this phrase acts as a metaphor and the speaker is not literally the happy genius of their household.  The speaker owns the responsibility expected of the happy genius of their own mind, no one else’s.

Danse Russe, Williams’ brilliant way to show the reader self worth accomplishes it in a non-cliche or overbearing way.  It’s intentional deceit on the first read displays an excellent use of imagery and gives great credit to Williams’ many years of work within the Imagist movement.  Despite Williams long gone from Earth, his works will live on and his influence on writing long lasting.  It appears that Williams did possess the ability of the happy genius of his household after all.

Works Cited

“Analysis Of Poem.” W.C Williams, wcwilliamsenglish2.weebly.com/analysis-of-poem.html. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

“Imagism.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/imagist. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

Watson, Sonny. “Title.” Russian | Ukranian | Slavic | Cossack Kazaks Dance, www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3cosck1.htm. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

“William Carlos Williams.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 6 Oct. 2015, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/william-carlos-williams. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

 


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