'The Pure Products of America Go Crazy...'

Possibly my favorite opening line in any poem ever—though I'm not sure this is a great pick. The imagery is beautiful and striking, but it's also rendered through a weirdly ethnocentric lens. There's a lot of uncontrolled lust in the piece. I don't know much about William Carlos Williams' life, but with a piece like this, I often think the poet is saying more about himself than about his subject.

At any rate, here's Williams reading "To Elsie." Text of the poem after the jump.

To Elsie

The pure products of America

go crazy--

mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of


with its isolate lakes and


valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves

old names

and promiscuity between


devil-may-care men who have taken

to railroading

out of sheer lust of adventure--


and young slatterns, bathed

in filth

from Monday to Saturday


to be tricked out that night

with gauds

from imaginations which have no


peasant traditions to give them


but flutter and flaunt


sheer rags-succumbing without


save numbed terror


under some hedge of choke-cherry

or viburnum-

which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage


with a dash of Indian blood


will throw up a girl so desolate

so hemmed round

with disease or murder


that she'll be rescued by an


reared by the state and


sent out at fifteen to work in

some hard-pressed

house in the suburbs--


some doctor's family, some Elsie--

voluptuous water

expressing with broken


brain the truth about us--

her great

ungainly hips and flopping breasts


addressed to cheap


and rich young men with fine eyes


as if the earth under our feet


an excrement of some sky


and we degraded prisoners


to hunger until we eat filth


while the imagination strains

after deer

going by fields of goldenrod in


the stifling heat of September


it seems to destroy us


It is only in isolate flecks that


is given off


No one

to witness

and adjust, no one to drive the car