Poet's Pick April 11
William Carlos Williams: "The Thinker"
Selected by Terry Savoie
National Poetry Month 2012

Letter from the Editors

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Terry Savoie's Poetry Month Pick, April 11, 2012

"The Thinker"
by William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

My wife's new pink slippers
have gay pompons.
There is not a spot or a stain
on their satin toes or their sides.
All night they lie together
under her bed's edge.
Shivering I catch sight of them
and smile, in the morning.
Later I watch them
descending the stair,
hurrying through the doors
and round the table,
moving stiffly
with a shake of their gay pompons!
And I talk to them
in my secret mind
out of pure happiness.

* Terry Savoie Comments:

An unpretentious seventeen lines, a mere eighty or so words, certainly "The Thinker" is nothing that could ever cause much of a stir, unlike Williams's Spring And All published a few years later, or Paterson, Williams's epic to follow a quarter of a century later.  Perhaps "The Thinker" was only the briefest of ideas, a moment, a flash of recognition and appreciation that Williams, as was his practice, hurriedly jotted down between house calls or office visits and then returned to once or twice to tighten, to squeeze, to prune away the excesses.  So here we have it decades later, and it lives once again in our reading.

This small, domestic moment, a husband's observations of his wife's "new pink slippers" sporting their "gay pompons" calls our attention to what, at first blush, seems so insignificant, something so trivial, yet it sets the speaker to "shivering," smiling, and finally talking to the slippers out of "pure" happiness.

And yet... and yet, this poem begs the question why nothing, nothing whatsoever is spoken to or of the woman, the wife, the one who pads through the morning in those same pink slippers with "their satin toes" as yet unstained.  Of her, nothing at all. She presumably exists, but where is she?   At least the slippers, lonely as they may be, are the objects of a so-called conversation, although that conversation only occurs in the speaker's "secret" mind.  But again, no woman, no wife, only those pink slippers.  Such a revelation, the coldness possible at times in the most intimate of relationships, the cruel, unspoken avoidances and delicate dancing-away done at the edges of many marriages.  And what a temptation it is to read more deeply here, to read of the silences perhaps already present in the early years of Williams's marriage to that one who goes unnamed in the poem, while contrasting that with those beautiful love poems written much later to Flossie as well his near total physical dependency on her in that final decade of his life.

Then over and against that we have the poem's title, "The Thinker," which recalls for us Rodin's iconic sculpture under the same title, a sculpture that shows us the massive image of a man, naked, head in hand, sealed inside himself, in hard contemplation.  Could that be what we are to take from this poem?  In all his humanness, the speaker—as with Rodin's "The Thinker"—remains an isolate, a stone, stone cold.

Why do I love this poem?  It is a lucky, expressive moment of the all-too-human dilemma found in countless intimacies, marital or otherwise.  "The Thinker" speaks so very little; it, as all successful poetry does, says so much more.

About Terry Savoie:
Terry Savoie's work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, The Northwest Review, and The Iowa Review. Other poems are in recent or forthcoming issues of Seems, Pearl, Visions-International, Permafrost, 10×3 plus, and Rosebud.

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