Al Filreis on William Carlos Williams

At the Ball Game

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty
the eternal—

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut—

The flash female with her
mother, gets it—

The Jew gets it straight—it
is deadly, terrifying—

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly—

This the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought


* * *

William Carlos Williams' "The crowd at the ball game," a piece of the famous Spring and All sequence, bothers not at all to observe the game being played. Its power as art derives from "the power of their faces," and it watches fans watching the game and calls the precision with which they do so beautiful. They are "moved uniformly / by a spirit of uselessness." There is no meaning or purpose to "the exciting detail / of the chase / … the error / the flash of genius."  These are "all to no end save beauty." Williams fears and loves the convergence of unity and diversity in baseball. Their apparent classlessness makes the crowd far more progressive than the game itself, thus justifying a poem about baseball that only glancingly mentions what happens on the field.  Spring and All generally promulgates aspects of democratic culture apt for the modernist keen to observe fragmentation, cultural breakdown, disarray, and the reversal of traditional subject-object relations (observing the seers seeing rather than simply reporting the seen). The modernist's fan-centered game bore out Jane Addams' more overtly political question: Did not baseball belong to "the undoubted power of public recreation to bring together all classes of a community in the modern city unhappily so full of devices for keeping men apart?"


* * *

"At  the Ball Game" by William Carlos Williams from The Collected Poems: Volume 1, 1909-1939. Copyright © 1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

 

 

 
 

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