Two poems richer

Credit: See-Ming Lee

Credit: See-Ming Lee

I don’t know why I did it, other than because I wanted to, but I read a poem by William Carlos Williams to my economics class. I rationalized it because we were discussing economic policy during the Great Depression, and I remembered a poem by Williams, “To a Poor Old Woman,” and I just needed to share it that day. That reason was good enough, so I read it to them.

It did fit with the lecture, but what I wanted to accomplish was more than bring the Depression into view, I wanted to provide stark relief. And, I wanted to share some art. So, I told them about the poem, how Williams wrote it during the Depression, and how its simplicity allowed the reader to feel the goodness of a simple pleasure, by a simple woman. In my mind, it is simply a beautiful poem.

There is a hint that Williams is somewhat condescending to the poor old woman and her simplicity, but I think he more or less is just relating what he sees; he sees a poor old woman enjoying a cheap pleasure, a bag of plums, which is probably the greatest luxury she can afford.

The poem, like most poems, is best when read aloud, so I read it to my class. I saw that the students could smell and taste the plums too. It is a powerful poem. Its words evoke sights and sounds that can really be enjoyed.

One of my students liked the poem well enough that he went to the library and pulled a collection of Williams’ poems off the shelf. He read through them and liked some, didn’t like others.

But, I asked him If he found any poems he liked. And, he said that he did find two poems he liked. “Great,” I said, “you are now two poems richer.”

Don’t be troubled by a few missteps; no one bats a thousand all the time.

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee, Plums at the NY Farmers’ Market, Creative Commons ASA License 3.0