Williams- “Portrait of a Lady”

William Carlos Williams’s “Portrait of a Lady” expresses frustrating and often futile attempts to describe feelings and experiences through poetry. The author starts by comparing the lady’s thighs to appletrees (which, in my opinion, most ladies would be a little offended by) that touch the sky, then attempts to further describe the sky. He stumbles as he confuses the artists Watteau and Fragonard, then expresses his frustration with an “Agh!” and doubts the importance of the artists (“as if that answered anything”). He continues to struggle as he tries to define the shore, then doubts this choice of figurative language and turns instead to petals. To me, this poem is both an accurate description of the process of writing- a constant exchanging of some words for another, becoming distracted by some ideas, then turning back to the task at hand- and a comment on the frustration and near impossibility of translating emotion, experiences, and feelings into words.

What do you all think Williams was trying to say about poetry, and the creative process in general?

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One Response to Williams- “Portrait of a Lady”

  1. jnikol12 says:

    Frustration really is the perfect word to describe the theme of this poem. I think what Williams is trying to do is take a sort of still photograph of this creative process while it’s still in the works. A poem is usually the product of thinking, struggling, and editing. But this poem is entirely organic and seems to be a perfect imprint of the poet’s mind in action. Words on paper can never show precisely what one’s thoughts & thought processes are, only translate. But this poem gets just one step closer to a more accurate depiction. Does that make any sense? Like, comparing thighs to apple trees may make perfect sense inside of a creative mind, but on paper it would take words upon words to even get close to making any sort of sense of it. This, I believe, is the poet’s frustration.

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