‘Not all has withered’: A poetry month tribute to Paul O. Williams

For National Poetry Month, we revisit the work of Paul O. Williams, a decadeslong contributor to The Home Forum.

Karen Norris/Staff

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Longtime readers of the Monitor may recall the poetry of Paul O. Williams, whose first poem was published in The Home Forum section (now in the Monitor Weekly) in 1965. Some 240 followed over the next four decades. Dr. Williams, a professor at Duke University and Principia College, wrote poetry almost daily, publishing six volumes of verse. He was president of The Thoreau Society and the Haiku Society of America. In 1983 he won a national award for two science fiction novels. His poetry came to our attention again recently when his daughter contacted us about a collection she is curating. As the United States celebrates National Poetry Month, we present a selection of his work. 

Longtime readers of The Home Forum section (now in the Monitor Weekly) may recall the poetry of Paul O. Williams, whose first poem appeared in 1965. Some 240 followed over the next four decades. Dr. Williams, a professor at Duke University and Principia College, wrote poetry almost daily, publishing six volumes of verse. He was president of The Thoreau Society and the Haiku Society of America. In 1983 he won a national award for two science fiction novels. His poetry came to our attention again recently when his daughter, Anne, contacted us about a collection she is curating. As the United States celebrates National Poetry Month, here are five of his poems, reprinted with Anne’s permission.

Some deeper source

In this aging California summer
the grass is brown and dry.
The spent blooms of red clover
have crumbled to powder.
But not all has withered.
The dill, the fuller’s teasel, lotus,
a few other plants are green
and blooming. They have 
some deeper water source,
reaching down the fingertips of
their root tendrils to some
remote dampness into which
they tap and sip and flourish.
That is one of the arts of living,
isn’t it, to have that deeper source
and persist when the outer world
has gone dry on its surfaces.
These plants have mastered it well.

Published on The Home Forum, Aug. 2, 1995

Every good gift

We don’t put sunrise in a purse or coat,
yet it is given us, a sinecure.
With symphonies, we can’t possess a note
or phrase, yet they are also given, as sure
as swallows in the bank, if we can look
or listen, furnish time and liberal thought.
We don’t cram roses in a pocketbook.
They return the fragrance we have brought,
according our attention to their flowers.
While some demur and say that these are things
that being casually provides, that dirt is also ours,
I note the stash of pumpkins that the soil upflings.
Rain fills the lake. Carnelians in the sand
glow red with sun spread in my cupping hand.

Nov. 23, 1993

Untitled

I buy a poem
from an insistent French girl
on the street,
take it home, translate it.
It is on smiling. I smile.

May 13, 2002

Reflections in the brass

Reflections in the brass base
of the lamp bulge out, convex,
contorted, unlike real objects
below. I too reflect,
and trust my own reflections
lie square and true.
And yet with all I know
of education, self-interest, drowsiness,
neglect, preoccupation, despair,
who is to say I’m not another
brass lamp base, perhaps with a dent,
a ding or two, to complicate
the images that race around inside,
that crowd, rush forward, speak together,
that express what I claim to think
I think? Give us, then
the objectivity of clear reflection, plain,
straight on, and let us give back,
face to face, what’s given us,
without diminishment.

Aug. 28, 1995 

Workers in blue

Workers in blue lounge by their truck,
slowly eating sandwiches and apples,
each fingernail end a new moon of dirt,
each bare head sweaty with summer.
Safety helmets laid down gleam
like a clutch of gold eggs.
A small girl in a white dress comes by,
regards them from behind her popsicle,
her face orange with it. She offers a bit
to one man, who takes it carefully,
clipping it off with his wiped jackknife.
Another man rises slowly, ceremoniously,
places on her head a wreath he has made
of cottonwood leaves pinned together
by their stems. She smiles. 
They smile. They salute her with upraised
sandwiches. They choir approval,
watch her, with the eyes of fathers,
diminish down the sidewalk,
hair bouncing under her green crown.
In the silence a summer locust sings
its harsh, passionate song to the heat.

May 1, 1991

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