I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral
for you have it over a troop
of artists—
unless one should scour the world—
you have the ground sense necessary.

See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ’s sake not black—
nor white either — and not polished!
Let it be whethered—like a farm wagon—
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.

Knock the glass out!
My God—glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
the flowers or the lack of them—
or what?
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass—
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom—
my townspeople, what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.

No wreathes please—
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes—a few books perhaps—
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
my townspeople—
something will be found—anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.

For heaven’s sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that’s no place at all for him—
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down—bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I’d not have him ride
on the wagon at all—damn him!—
the undertaker’s understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!

Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind—as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly—
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What—from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us—it will be money
in your pockets.
Go now
I think you are ready.

Analysis, meaning and summary of William Carlos Williams's poem Tract

5 Comments

  1. Chuck says:

    Not a big deal, but shouldn’t “whethered” be “weathered”? What sense does it make otherwise?

  2. Martin says:

    When Tract was written, Dylan Thomas was 2 years old. To call the poem a direct criticism is surely a bold statement.

  3. Lisa says:

    Okay…I understand your view of the poem…but my thesis wasn’t that complicated. Of course, I could pick any poem and say that it’s about life…but…I believe the relations between life and “Tract” are numerous. And…I’m not in an Ivy League School, I’m a senior in high school.

  4. Jacob says:

    He is trying to tell poets to keep it simple with their works. Instead of making things complicated beyond belief (aka “Waste Land”) Williams wants writers to tell it like it is, keep it simple, stupid. Make poetry work for everyone instead of those with a degree from an Ivy League school.

  5. Lisa says:

    Is this a good thesis for this poem?

    “Tract” is a metaphorical idiom reflecting the needed simplicity in life.

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