. . . "Portrait the a Lady," composed in 1920 though not included in Sour Grapes, consciously parodies the catalogue convention and also calls right into question poetic engravings of the feminine. In picture linking it come "A Cold Night, " the poem begins: "Your thighs are appletrees / whose blossoms touch the sky" (129). Proceeding, as is customary in ~ the catalogue structure, come comment (gaze) top top the lady"s knees and ankles, the poem interrupts chin in a fashion uncustomary that its genre. With each photo of a human body part, inquiries break the sequence, till the syntax disintegrates right into uncertainty:

it is 

one that those white summer days, 

the high grass of her ankles 

flickers upon the shore— 

Which shore?—

the sand clings to my lips— 

Which shore? 

Agh, petals maybe. How 

should ns know? 

Which shore? which shore? 

I claimed petals native an appletree. (129)

Through suffering a disruption the the catalogue convention, the poem has actually undergone a procedure of review on many levels. It comments upon the genre (and, by extension, a entirety tradition that love poetry) and also its reliance ~ above the masculine gaze as an objectifying, managing authority of vision, for the gaze no longer commands the poem when the concerns unsettle the eye"s directive control. Based upon a painting by Watteau, the poem reconsiders the representation of women by male artists. Consistently interrogating both the choice and creation of images, the rejects the extended an allegory of the catalogue: "Which sky?"; "What I kind of male was Fragonard?"; "Which shore?" The poem likewise revises its linguistic construction; the opening metaphor evolves right into the direct statement finishing the poem, arguing that the woman"s body escapes metaphorical dismemberment. Line by line, the city derails the direction the initially created until the implicitly inquiries its very own authority together a cultural inscription.

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Veiled by metaphors and an altering tone, the eroticism that this poem has actually not been fully unappreciated. The city works and also partly disguises itself by means of contrasts in between subject and also imagery and also by distraction, together the bumbling speak progresses through interruptive rhetorical excursions and also returns. Emotionally he ring the transforms from erotic adulation v nonchalance to petulance. Having started in a metaphorical vein, the feels obliged to proceed inventing metaphors, and the duty strains his patience. He makes "mistakes," which frustrate him and distract the leader from his subject, a woman"s reduced extremities. This is a "portrait" only from the waist down, and also it begins, at least, as a love poem in the Renaissance setting of straight address, to compare body components to facets of nature.

The initial metaphor is appletrees because that thighs. "Blossoms" over the trunks suggest lacy underwear or pubic hair, which, in turn, touches "the sky." The metaphorical sky need to be the lady"s bottom, a designation initially emphasized by the concern "Which sky?" The erotically charged tactility of the word "touch" is canceled, however, by its metaphorical connection to sky, which no one ever really touches. And the speaker short-circuits the logic through which the sky is she bottom once he identifies the skies as the in a picture, remembered as by Watteau, in i m sorry a young woman"s slipper hangs in air.

Soft and warm, the "knees" the the speaker"s lady space "a southern breeze." The silly rhyme may indicate an amateur (the speaker, not Williams) in ~ work. Wishing to include the tactile come the visible, and because the knees space white, he says that they are also "a gust of snow." A poet can want to revise here, due to the fact that the heat breeze and the snow room contradictory. (The warmth would certainly melt the snow, or the snow cancel the warmth.) So once the speaker exclaims, "Agh!" the reader might assume that he has recorded his mistake, but the speaker is reasoning of an earlier, factual error. The paint in i beg your pardon "a lady"s / slipper" hangs is no by Watteau but by Fragonard. Distracted by establish his error - which he does not go back to correct, because the fictional pretext is the this is a transcript of reasoning - he wonders "what / type of man" Fragonard was. Us shall see that this question has actually sexual implications. He conveniently dismisses the question and recalls his purpose, "Ah, yes," and resumes his selection of metaphors, moving "below / the knees, due to the fact that the song / drops that way." This explain is risque, implying that the tune can just as quickly have risen over the knee. Furthermore, the word below is faint here, due to the fact that in the painting by Fragonard the young woman raises her best leg so the "below" the knee can literally mean over it.(2) however here the ordinary convention applies - and also unlike Fragonard"s woman, this one will have her feet ~ above the ground. The speak feels obliged by having actually moved nearly inadvertently native thigh to knee to proceed in that direction come calves, "those white summer days," and also ankles. The latter are flickering "tall grass," an image that decorporealizes and de-eroticizes. In fact, no one of the metaphors, other than possibly "blossoms," is erotic. Lugged by momentum of descent, the speaker kisses no the ground yet "the shore," a indigenous connoting destination. According to the logic of anatomy, this "shore" is she feet. That asks, "Which shore?" (line 16), recalling his previous quick question, "Which sky?" (3), v its initially erotic suggestion. Shore and also sky space feet and bottom, at every of which foot terminate. These terminations may have actually affinity with one another, because feet is periodically a euphemism for genitals.(3) words feet is not mentioned, however, and also the erotic suggestion is faint.

We saw that the very first question, "Which sky?" leads to a reification of metaphor that transforms that is effect. We shall see that the corresponding second question might signal an additional transformation. In answer come this 2nd question, the speaker decides that his "shore" has a beach: "the sand clings to my lips." since this image elicits discomfort ("Agh"), the tentatively revises: "petals maybe." Then, in a go back to the opening metaphor of the poem, he makes the selection definite: no sand but "petals native an appletree." Passive now, that is metal at having to do the choice: "How need to I know?" twice he asks, "Which shore?" to aid him decision whether his lips will certainly take far from the kiss sand or petals. Yet why, in the penultimate line, does he repeat the question? he has already exchanged sand for petals, albeit tentatively. The question now seems inappropriate, its third and 4th repetition extreme - unless another choice is being considered.

What various other shore is over there from which he can come far from a kiss v "petals native an appletree?" He might kiss the flower themselves. This opportunity requires that her bottom likewise be a "shore" and, implicitly, a destination - i beg your pardon is just how a man could regard the mrs genital area. If she groin is currently his shore, the "blossoms" have to be pubic hair. (Whether dropped top top feet or tho in place, "blossoms" room unlikely to it is in lacy underwear, due to the fact that the concept of underwear clinging come his lips ~ a kiss is ludicrous.) The reasons a reader can suspect the exchange the feet because that pudendum are: the selection of the word "shore," through its connotation that destination; the excessive repetition the "Which shore?": the suggestiveness of "feet"; the pass out (in the paper definition of the painting) that "below"; the pointer that activity from thigh to knee could have gone in the other direction; and the go back to the opening metaphor, which might be a reversal in direction.

The allusion come Fragonard"s The Swing emphasizes interest over the knee. In the painting, a young woman exposes her open up legs come the enraptured rigid of a voyeur hidden in a bush directly in front of her. Few modern viewers realize what the artist knew and also what Williams may have known, the eighteenth-century ladies did not wear underpants. These, in the shape of bloomers, were inventions of the nineteenth century. Once the speaker asks, "what / sort of male was Fragonard" (7-8), he suggests an interest in the Frenchman"s sex-related preferences and also may wonder whether Fragonard to be a voyeur. Because the title of the city identifies the speaker together a metaphorical painter, an analogous inquiry would be, "What sort of male is he?" there is a hint, in ~ least, of interest in cunnilingus. Together the few commentators who have actually thought that requires evaluation agree, this city is much much more a portrait that the speaker 보다 of the lady. If the is revealed to it is in whimsical, lackadaisical, petulant, and also not a very good poet, something around his erotic inclinations is additionally at the very least implied. The is not, however, a voyeur choose the youth in the painting. That function is booked for the reader, the viewer that this "portrait."

From The Explicator 56.2 (Winter 1998)

One exemption to the dearth of love text is "Portrait that a Lady". . .from 1920. This city anticipates what will become a major pattern in Paterson: the poet"s monologue disrupted by a woman"s comments. The lady Williams addresses in "Portrait" seems to inquire closely into his claims and also assertions. We hear her voice secondhand, in Williams"s significantly irritated echoing of her questions. What Williams tries to do--at the very least ostensibly--is to deal with a city of praise to the lady. His nettled solution to she questions, however, suggests that he may be an ext interested in play the poet than the lover. "Portrait of a Lady" indicates how the impulse behind the love lyric (to enumerate the beloved"s attributes) deserve to be quickly divorced indigenous the subject of praise. The city becomes a device subject come its very own laws. Its operation principles, in various other words, make it more closely connected to other lyrics than to the beloved. This warping that the poem away from the person described may be reflected in the gap that opens between "Your" (the an initial word that the poem) and also "I" (the first word of the last line). Other details in the poem indicate a tendency for love lyrics to turn self-referential: portions of the lady"s anatomy are designated simply due to the fact that they market convenient rhymes ("knees" through "breeze"); the poem gradually shifts its focus away from she head (we continue from "thighs" come "knees" to "ankles") and hence far from that component of her which speaks; the poem"s diction lapses into the vernacular once Williams grows weary of she questions: "How / must I know?" The lover in "Portrait the a Lady" refuses to be entombed by praise. She resists gift effaced through the work of the traditional love lyric. How does she accomplish this?

She inquires into the nature the his metaphors in together a way as to contact them into question. She asks for a larger context for the metaphor; if she "thighs room appletrees," she wants to recognize where this trees room located. The lady commits poetic sabotage, since the metaphorical machine of the love lyric calls for a swift transition from one an allegory to the next. Come ask the lyric come dwell ~ above a comprehensive extrapolation that one metaphor is to ask it come relinquish the basis because that its form. A virtuoso power such together Robert Frost"s "The Silken Tent," i m sorry sustains a single metaphor over fourteen lines, demonstrates how daunting it is come restrict a love lyric to a solitary metaphor.

In a way, "Portrait the a Lady" reflects Williams being forced to choose between two loves: (1) the lady who is the subject of the poem and also (2) the type memorialized and rededicated in the poem. Finally, the poem additionally demonstrates Williams"s comprehension that the timeless love lyric had to gain a new kind to be viable in a people where some women were no longer content to receive the artist"s pass out accolade in becoming silence.

Williams" desire to take words together they room found, "Without distortion which would mar their specific significance," for example, appears to assume the words have an "exact significance" and, further, that such precision deserve to be kept undamaged through the inevitable procedure of translate that one"s "perceptions and also ardors" into "an extreme expression" includes problems comparable to those installed in Ezra Pound"s claim that his "In A terminal of the Metro" documents "the an accurate instant when a thing outward and also objective transforms itself, or darts right into a thing inward and also subjective." every statement nonchalantly waves turn off the tremendous challenges inherent in the plot of translating the world into words.


Consider the flamboyant disappointed that provides the poem "Portrait that a Lady"—it is born of the inability to discover univocal words that carry out not confusingly suggest to a hold of possible signifieds. Return it starts confidently enough:

Your thighs space appletrees 

whose blossoms touch the sky.

by the 3rd line the city becomes a acknowledgment of its very own failure to distinguish its language and also clarify the intention—". . . Skies / which sky?" how to differentiate for the leader or, indeed, because that himself, the very "sky" Williams envisions indigenous all various other "skies"? and how in order to to focus this sky, i m sorry is touch by the flower of an appletree, for the reader? Ultimately, together a distinction can only be partly accomplished; that is not the sky, because that instance, of a Reubens or a Rembrandt, however the skies "where Watteau hung a lady"s / slipper." (This, together we know, is in chin a blurring of distinctions, because that Watteau never ever hung a slipper in it—Fragonnard did.) But, through its very own admission, that sky cannot exist because that the reader in isolation indigenous the slipper which areas it in relief, nor from its creative interpretation into paint. And also so the problem of verbal clarity or differentiation multiplies exponentially,

the high grass of her ankles 

flickers top top the shore—

Which Shore?—

until the poem sputters in frustration, stumbles in between question and declaration, and also stalls:

Agh, petals maybe. How 

should i know? 

Which shore? which shore? 

I stated petals indigenous an appletree.

The poem starts with a hyperbolic an allegory ("Your thighs room appletrees") in order come illuminate an error—that the attempting to produce identity rather of difference. This error is an example of what Williams terms "an easy lateral sliding" in "Prologue to Kora in Hell" in 1920: "The true worth is the peculiarity i m sorry gives an item a character by itself. The associational or sentimental value is the false. Its imposition is because of lack that imagination, to an easy lateral sliding." The quotation implies the imagistic features of Williams" interests, and also illuminates just how keenly he viewed poetry in terms of focusing. Rather of the blurring of an allegory which identifies two things—the clarity of differentiating them. And instead or a "lateral sliding"—a concentrating of perception. That is in this means that "Portrait that a Lady" is a parodic indictment of T. S. Eliot’s symbolism which, Williams believed, produced the blurred impressionism that his 1915 city of the very same title.

Williams "Portrait of a Lady" is a parodic acknowledgment of the failure of metafor to perform what he desires a poem"s language come do: produce a verbal grid in i m sorry marring, blending, distortion carry out not occur.

From "Against "An simple Lateral Sliding": wilhelm Carlos Williams" at an early stage Poetry the Differentiation." American Poetry 5:3 (Spring 1988): 14-23

Although commentators have recognized the the paint alluded come in wilhelm Carlos Williams" "Portrait the a Lady" is through Fragonard and not through Watteau, as far as I have the right to determine nobody has listed the specific nature and function of the overlapping referrals to this painters, nor, that seems, has anyone made an exact attribution of the poem"s alternate voices. Both this clarifications are important for interpreting the poem.

The city presents a dialogue between a man and a mrs or an imaginary dialogue within a man"s mind reflecting the likely reactions the a woman to his elaborate and somewhat man-made but however delicate, tender, and also mellifluous prayer of she loveliness and sexual appeal. Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) were both French painters of the baroque or rococo style, much of whose occupational presents aristocratic human being in sophisticated poses. The paint which portrays a lady"s slipper exposed in the air in front of the lady ~ above a swing is wrongly attributed come Watteau by one of Williams" speakers. The paint is "La Balancoire" ("The Swing") by Fragonard. The reference to Fragonard must, then, it is in a mediate of the statement about Watteau. This renders it really likely the the sentence "The sky / wherein Watteau hung a lady"s / slipper" is talked not by the woman however by the man and also is his answer to the concern "Which sky?" The sentence, then, to represent a complication that the interacting voices, because that the male is capable of satirizing his very own viewpoint, or at the very least of placing it in perspective as rather mannered. If the sentence about Watteau"s claimed painting were spoken by the woman, that would almost certainly take it a question note as one implied extension of "Which sky?"

After speak this phrase, the man proceeds to call her knee a southern breeze. The instantly following "—or a gust the snow" is her deflating extension of his description and also a happy rebuff the the direction that his sex-related advance. The question around Fragonardis asked by the woman as a convey of his remark about Watteau. For sure ""as if that answered anything" cannot be talked by the exact same voice. Quite it is the man"s acceptance of her factual mediate and likewise an insistence that the mentality or artistry that Fragonard is not relevant to his very own sincerity or accuracy, or even to his very own right to fancy mode the expression. "Ah, yes" represents the man"s attempt to recuperate his composure and also his line of thought, and also he proceeds to incorporate the woman"s cooling the the description by sardonically accepting the truth that fist moves listed below rather than above the knees, though he recovers the note of worship by assigning delicate summer loveliness come the portion of she body below the knees. Through "the sand clings to mine lips—" the guy accepts a tentative and also self-mocking defeat, the sand representing she success at driving away his incipient physics gesture, and also the "Agh, petals maybe" mirrors him trying to recuperate his view by arguing that the coast is made of fallen petals rather than the rebuffing sand. But with the woman"s insistence on discovering "Which shore?" his proud in the genuineness of his expression and feeling surges up and he attempts to retrieve his position through assertion that by being made of petals the elevated human being of her body does indeed defy the people of logic. This interpretation assigns passages v the exclamation "Agh!" to alternate speakers (though it has actually the exclamation note only through the very first occurrence), but awareness of just how the man virtually shares and partly conducts the woman"s deflation that him have to justify Williams" use of an similar expression the feigned disgust by both speakers.

From "Dialogue and also Allusion in william Carlos Williams" "Portrait that a Lady."" Concerning Poetry 10:2 (Fall 1997).

Williams, in his portrait, favor Moore, utilizes the Renaissance convention that the beauty portrayed by she parts:

Your thighs space appletrees 

whose flower touch the skies . . . .


your knees 

are a southern breeze—or 

a gust of snow . . . .


Ah yes—below 

the knees, due to the fact that the tune 

drops the way, that is 

one that those white summer days, 

the high grass of your ankles 

flickers upon the coast . . . . (35)

In the quixotic last line of the poem—"I claimed petals native an appletree"—the speaker unequivocally asserts his presence over the parts, for it is he who "says" lock (36).

From "Gender in Marianne Moore"s Art: Can"ts and Refusals." Sagtrieb. Vol. 6, No. 3

"Portrait the a Lady," i beg your pardon is really an additional paradoxical self-portrait, amusingly renders the descending activities of that fiber that swift attention through which Kora in Hell was mostly concerned. . . .

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The descent, that course, is not just visual. The city moves, through internal dialogue, from an easy formalized tribute towards a much more disturbing contact. The witty and sentimental format of Watteau or the Fragonard (whose "The Swing" does leaving a slipper hanging in the sky) specifies that delightful art which is yet a means of repelling immediacy. The succession of early stage composition and sardonic question or retort dead the speaker beneath such decorative surfaces towards an inarticulate contact from which that attempts (with half a mind) to protect himself: "Which shore?- / the sand clings to mine lips-" And, in the poem"s final line, the tribute has actually lost the simplicity that its formal distance: "I said petals native an appletree." as a whimsically security mask, the tribute becomes precise figure that the speaker"s relation to himself and also to his lady.