Date of Award
Oftentimes the American suburbs are considered through the lens of architecture, economics, fiction, and visual media. And, typically, the conversation centers on their cultural zenith in the 1950s. One literary form is neglected in this conversation: poetry. This omission is peculiar, as a fascination with the vastness of the continent’s landscape—and its significance—pervades the history of the American verse. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, the apparently endless expanses of space and rejuvenative qualities of the American landscape provide the poet’s ideal inspiration, and Walt Whitman, in perhaps the most important collection of poetry of the nineteenth century, Leaves of Grass, is very much concerned with rendering the American experience through the landscape. As America approached modernity, suburbanization subsumed the American Romantic attitude toward the landscape and the evacuated rural spaces outside of urban cores to produce a new space for the bourgeois upper class. This relocation of the emergent bourgeois upper class to the outskirts of the city created a new hybridized space for Modernist poets to consider. William Carlos Williams’s poetry stands out from that of his Modernist counterparts in that it is able to identify and dismantle the illusion of proto-suburban spaces. That is to say, Williams notices that both the American proto-suburbs and the pastoral ideal rely upon ignoring the material reality of the rural and suburban poor. Through an analysis of Williams’s poetry, the history of the pastoral form, the history of the American suburbs, and contemporary literary criticism, this essay will consider how Williams responded to the subsumption of the American countryside.
Wagner, Tyler, "“While the imagination strains / after deer”: William Carlos Williams’s Interrogations of the American Transcendental Imagination and the Proto-Suburban Scene" (2018). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 451.