An Analysis of the Use of Form And Rhythm in “The Dance” In William Carlos Williams’s poem, “The Dance”, Williams uses the inspiration of a painting by Peter Breughel to shape his poem. Peter Breughel’s painting called “The Kermess” depicts a peasant dance of the mid fifteenth century. It shows the form and rhythm of the dance. Williams also captures the form and the rhythm of this dance in his poem. In William Carlos Williams poem, “The Dance” the open form, suggested images, and rhythm embodies the dance depicted in the painting “The Kermess” by Peter Breughel. In Breughel’s painting, “The Kermess”, all of the people that are dancing, do so around and around each other.
The opening of Williams’s poem establishes the rhythm of the entire poem. In lines two and three, “the dancers go round, they go round and around” (Kennedy 234), Williams establishes a bouncing and circular motion in the poem. This bouncing and circular motion is also emphasized by the absence of line stops in the entire poem (Diggory 156).
Every line continues to the next giving the poem the feeling of a circular motion. The open form of the poem helps to continue the bouncing rhythm throughout Williams’s entire work. Williams continues to establish a rhythm by mentioning musical instruments.
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The peasants dance to “the squeal and the blare and the tweed le of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles” (Kennedy 234).
This alludes to the bagpipe player keeping the beat of the dance for the peasants in Breughel’s painting. Williams uses the words “squeal… blare… tweed le” in his poem because of a friend he had met after his return to America and describes his laugh as “a squealing and blaring pig about to be slaughtered” (Diggory 49).
Throughout the poem word choice such as “kicking”, “rolling”, “swinging”, and “rollicking” (Kennedy 235) and visual referencing keeps the reader bouncing along all the way to the end of the poem.
In the middle of the poem Williams uses a device called enjambment to create a pause in the rhythm of the poem. Critics say that Williams is trying to not only give the feel of the dance but also accurately describe how the dance was performed. “In “The Peasant Dance” there was a pause, or a stop, in the middle of the dance. Williams tries to show this part of the dance by using an enjambment to give the poem a pause just like the dance was actually performed” (Viveinne 82).
The use of the enjambment not only gives the poem the physical form of the dance but also the rhythmical pause mirrors the performance of the dance. Breughel paints “The Kermess” with round figures and robust people.
Williams accordingly uses words such as “bellies” and phrases like “those shanks must be sound to bear up under such rollicking measures” (Kennedy 235) to convey these points. Using such words contribute to the round, open form of his poem. Williams also states that the peasants are drinking. .”.. whose wash they impound” and in doing so adds a little bit of comical vision of the people tipping to and fro and going around as they dance (Mariani 198).
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By pointing out the roundness and the intoxicated state of the people in Breughel’s painting Williams gives a better image to the reader of the inebriated rhythm of the people in the poem.
William Carlos Williams gives the reader everything one needs to fully understand all of the aspects of Peter Breughel’s painting, “The Kermess”, in his poem “The Dance.” In “The Dance” Williams uses an open, uninhibited form to portray not only the dance itself, but of the style of Breughel’s painting. By giving the poem a distinct rolling beat Williams accurately conveys the rhythmical flow of the painting and the actual dance; which is the subject of the painting. William Carlos Williams uses every means possible from form to word choice to convert a still painting showing a dance, into a full-fledged celebration that goes on within the reader, adding to the experience. Works CitedDiggory, Terence.
William Carlos Williams and the Ethics of Painting. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press, 1991. p. 49, 156 Kennedy, X. J.
An Introduction to Poetry: Ninth Edition. New York, New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. , 1998 pp 234-5 Koch, Viveinne. The Makers of Modern Literature: William Carlos Williams.
Norfolk, CT. New Directions Books, 1950. p. 82 Larson, Kelli A.
Guide to the Poetry of William Carlos Williams. New York, NY. Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1995. p. 22, 23 Mariani, Paul L.
William Carlos Williams: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago, IL. American Library Association, 1975. p.
68, 198, 212.