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The poem To Elsie by William Carlos Williams deeply effected me in ways that were not always present. It seems to be about both the vivacity and the rottenness that Williams sees are at the heart of America. It made me think about how American produces things that are "pure" and yet "crazy" at the same time…
But by the end of the first stanza I realized that Williams was in fact speaking of a different kind of "pure" - that is the inbreeding within families, especially in rural areas, that creates physical and mental monstrosities. I thought of a group of teenagers I had met from West Virginia who clearly were an example of this "purity" gone wrong.
The description of Jersey fits in with the same vision. There is obviously a lot of energy among these "devil-may-care men" and the "young slatterns", but it is almost like the energy of pigs rutting in mud. They mate a lot and reproduce; they eat a lot and so grow big - but there is nothing pleasant about either process. The idea of the girls submitting to the physical advances of the men "without emotion save numbed terror" gave me a vision of times in my own life when sex occurred as an accident or through the effect of drink. There is nothing romantic or loving about these people, and Williams made me think about my own life in a way that I usually avoid because of the conclusions that will be drawn from the examination.
Throughout the poem I wondered who the "Elsie" was that is referred to in the title, and eventually I discovered that it was the handicapped nursemaid who works in the doctor's house. ...