Date of Award

Spring 1982

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


When Williams decided in the early forties to accelerate work on the "magnum opus" he had begun fifteen years earlier, his ambitions were enormous, yet the literary establishment treated him more like a pygmy than a giant. T. S. Eliot, reigning literary pontiff, embraced the European literary tradition and ignored Williams as he had for years while Pound used Italy as a base for the economic and political tirades which eventually had him condemned as a traitor. In his long poem Paterson, Williams felt abandoned with the momentous task of discovering a poetics to fit the American idiom. His poem became a testing ground for that poetics as well as a homegrown allegory of the modern literary scene, complete with hidden portraits of Eliot, Pound, E. E. Cummings, Hart Crane and other poets. Only when Paterson is read as the imaginative biography of a misunderstood major poet with a taste for satire can Williams' full unity of purpose be understood.

Chapters one through three highlight Williams' position in the literary world during the twenties, thirties and forties, his interest in satire and his eventual identification with Chaucer. Chapters four through eight reveal comic elements embedded in Paterson. As the mock epic hero Paterson, Williams competes with other literary giants, ridiculing the literary techniques which have made their poems useless for his purposes even as he develops and demonstrates new measures for the American idiom and a new stance toward American writing.

Because Williams began Paterson while he was at the bottom of the literary ladder and completed it with a fairly secure place at the top, Paterson is treated throughout as a process poem with a satirical emphasis that shifted as Williams' own literary position shifted. Though Eliot remains the archenemy throughout Paterson, Williams comes to terms with Crane, Pound and Cummings even as he emerges victorious over all in the very fiction which associates him with Wallace Stevens. In Williams' final book, he turns the spotlight on himself as the father of a new generation of poets and the discoverer of a new American prosody.