UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Approaching death : the significance of Paterson book five Schuldt, Edward Philip


This thesis is basically a study of William Carlos Williams' Paterson, with emphasis on Book Five, the final completed book of the poem. Because Williams is repeatedly concerned with the Unicorn tapestries in Book Five, much attention is given to them, and the rest of Book Five is seen as complementary to this central metaphor. And because this metaphor is a restriction to the essentials, or what Williams calls "by multiplication a reduction to one," the thesis is largely involved in interpreting the implications of this metaphor, developed and determined by the context of the rest of the poem. Previously, most critics have either treated Paterson V as a postscript to Paterson I-IV, or have dismissed the book by stating in general terms that Williams in Book Five takes Paterson into the realm of the Imagination. In either case, a detailed analysis of Book Five has been avoided. This thesis attempts such an analysis, in order to reveal that Paterson V is not a postscript to the rest of the poem, but its culmination. Though Book Five is in a sense in a different realm from the first four books, the transition from the realm of life to that of art is not only foreshadowed by the former books, but is also the means of solution to the Paterson dilemma, struggled with and developed in Paterson I-IV, but never crystallized. This occurs in Book Five, where the Unicorn tapestries are the metaphoric "hub" of the crystallization. Though the dilemma involves both Paterson the man and city, it is mostly concerned with Paterson the poet, and his manifestation, the poem Paterson. Hence the dilemma is to a large extent autobiographical. Paterson's problem is Williams' problem: the necessity of transforming the poet's life quest, with all its implications, into a culminatory work of art. To this basic problem must be added several crucial obstacles. The first is that of approaching death. By the end of Book Four, Paterson has reached the end of his life course. Williams, in the year of Book Four's publication, has had several crippling strokes. In other words, Williams' life, like Paterson's, may soon be terminated, and thus the work of art may never be created. Secondly, Williams' work of art must include the processes of art and life, as well as their products. Without process, the product will stagnate, and without product, the process will remain a confused delirium. In this sense, Book Five becomes the product of the processes involved in Paterson I-IV, the product that clarifies both the poet's quest and his poetics, saves both Williams and Paterson from meaningless death, and gives the poet impetus to continue his craft. Intrinsic to the union of process and product is the union of life with literature, the poetic with the anti-poetic, and the Dionysian aspect of creation with that of the Apollonian. In Paterson, these turn out to be the "inter-penetrating realities" that the poet seeks to unite throughout the poem. The following analysis attempts to reveal how the union does symbolically or metaphorically occur, how the various disparate forces in the poem become embodied in a complex but harmonious whole, and why this union, as portrayed in the Unicorn tapestries, does succeed, where similar earlier attempts had failed

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