Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.

The rubbing feet
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock:
disaccordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely
Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
This way ma’am!
—important not to take
the wrong train!
Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but—
Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow—inviting entry—
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till—
The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
in a small kitchen. Taillights—

In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

—rivers are tunneled: trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
The dance is sure.

Analysis, meaning and summary of William Carlos Williams's poem Overture To A Dance Of Locomotives

1 Comment

  1. Sean Champ says:

    grand central station – also a feat of brick-and-cement hewn architecture, from far before days of styrofoam design – now, a feat of clockworks and the numbering of trains, and the thought, as if the sun followed the clock!

    Gestalten, a plain matter of earnest recognition? a second adjective linked after the first, a procession of words not merely statistical in assemblage – a pause, a moment, an expression of considerations more worked-out and woven than admits the most casual guess, the lance too swift, too jarred in prying – the pen, also a guidon, the banners trailing such as they were, there, indeed words, passing along the page.


    Grand Central didn’t make much sense to me, until – well, until presented a writer, light hearted, a William, his name like no banner but of a person, unpretentious the semblance of form – not even supposing a key to the clocktower, not breaking iron in semblance of echoed disgust, not even slamming a mallet upon the rail, and not asking trains to strike end-of-track. Invented: Locomotion.

    What things his ideas are made of, I stumble not to guess. A Williams, Carlos, a William – names and words, and mettle, the page of the poet not fallen off-rail, the writer not forgetting the value of clay – different scales than the weight of industrial metronome – not forgotten, even amidst the place of rails.

    What office lands this in, then? Think you a page has a mind of its own?

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