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Cubism in Daisy

In order to avoid being influenced by how others have analyzed and interpreted a poem before I’ve even read it, I like to first read the poem. In Daisy (Williams 1), the narrator at first seems to be describing the bleak landscape in August, after the promise of spring and the lushness of early summer. For reasons that remain a mystery, Williams apparently chose to spell “daisy,” “dayseye” (1). Obviously, he was combining the plural, rather than the possessive, of “day” with “eye” – but why?

By ending the sentence with “ha! ” I wondered whether Williams intended to be obscure – but, again, why? Nonetheless, reading further, the bleakness is broken by the sun’s rays on the stem of the daisy (or dayseye). It was startling to then read that “He lies on his back . . . ” (1). Syntactically, “he” must refer to the “the sun,” the subject of the previous sentence, but semantically or, as far as I can tell, metaphorically, such a statement does not make sense.

So, does “he” refer to the narrator? No, “it is a woman also” (1). We are left only with bizarre conclusions, such as, “the sun” is “he,” “she,” and “it. ” “Former majesty” would seem to refer to the sun as it was during the splendor of summer, perhaps in comparison to its weakness in August. But, in truth, “He lies . . . to grow cool there” (1) is reminiscent of listening to a person with Wernicke’s aphasia, slipping into speech that is syntactically correct but semantically meaningless.

Then, apparently, the narrator is back, examining the daisy (dayseye? ) with disdain, as a “thing,” with green and brown marring the yellow petals, perhaps soon to wither away. Reading the poem again, but excluding “He lies . . . to grow cool there! ” (1), the poem, in language that is elegant and in a mood that is despairing, uses the seasons to illustrate the inevitability of change beyond our control. But given Williams stature, it would be arrogant to dismiss the entire middle of the poem.

According to Bar-Yaacev (35-37), the middle section represents Williams use of cubism, where objects are perceived from “multiple perspectives’” (35), where by introducing “a bold, logic-defying metaphor,” (36), we are taken inside of the interior of the sun and daisy, which have been combined into one. He suggests that Williams takes us “inside and outside the eye of the flower-sun” or “dayseye” (36). Quite unlike my interpretation without the middle section (described above), “the poem,” for Bar-Yaaceve, “conveys an intuition concerning the powerful, primitive unifying forces in the natural world” (36).

Interpreting the middle section as “a bold, logic-defying metaphor” (36) does not help me understand its meaning. The problem may be in failing to understand how painters use cubism. Einstein (159-168) proposed that we accept our own perceptions of objects as reality, although there isn’t a single, stable perception of any object: “the visually active human being [constructs] his own universe” (168). In other words, cubist painters do not distort the appearance of objects, but present their own perceptions.

Indeed, for me, Picasso’s genius is that his perceptions are so much more interesting than my own and, I assume, the perceptions of others. Viewed this way, cubist painting reflects findings supported by evidence in the literature on both perception and memory, that regardless of our own certainty, our perceptions and memories are attributable to constructive mental processing (Treisman 114-125; Neisser & Libby 315-332). Similarly, the existentialist position is that meaning in our lives is what we create, rather than find (Frankl).

Wrede (35-52) considered Williams’s use of cubism in combining concrete and abstract elements of objects (36), presenting “multiple perspectives” (37), juxtaposing “unrelated words . . . to investigate the meaning of words” (39-40), and “re-contextualizes the words, placing them into new relationships so that he achieves new meanings” (46). However, Thede was relating Williams’s use of cubism to the poem “Spring and All,” a poem (1) full of semantic innovation but without the semantic confusion of Daisy described above.Thus, I must conclude that the technique of cubism has been used masterfully by Williams, but not, for me, in the particular poem Daisy.

Works Cited

Bar-yaacev, Lois. Williams’s ‘Daisy’ and ‘Great Mullen. ’ Explicator, 41, 1983, 35-37. Einstein, Carl. Notes on Cubism. October Magazine, 107, 2004, 158-168. Translated and introduced by Charles Hexthausen. Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. 1959/1975. New York: Pocket Books. Neisser, Ulric, & Libby, Lisa. Remembering Life Experiences. In Endel Tulving & Fergis I.

M. Craik (Eds. ), The Oxford Handbook on Memory, 2005, 315-332. New York: Oxford University Press. Treisman, Anne. Features and Objects in Visual Processing. Scientific American, 255, 114-125. Williams, William Carlos. Daisy, 1921. www. poemhunter. com/poem/daisy Williams, William Carlos. Spring and All, 1923. <etext. virginia. edu/railton/enam312/204/ wcwspring> Wrede, Theda. A New Beginning: William Carlos Williams’s Cubist Technique in Spring and All. Interdisciplinary Humanities, 22, 2005, 35-52.

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