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Bob Perelman on William Carlos Williams' "The Sea-Elephant"

The Sea-Elephant (1:52 full poem): MP3

1. Trundled from
the strangeness of the sea—

2. a kind of

3. Ladies and Gentlemen!
the greatest
sea-monster ever exhibited
the gigantic

4. O wallow
of flesh where
there fish enough for
appetite stupidity
cannot lessen?

of Aprils smallness
the little

Flesh has lief of you
enormous sea—

5. Blouaugh!  

6. feed

me) my
flesh is riven—
fish after fish into his maw

to let them glide down
gulching back
half spittle half

trouble eyes—torn
from the sea.

7. (In

a practical voice.)

8. They
to put it back where
it came from.

9. Gape.
Strange head—
told by old sailors—

to the surface—and
the only
sense out of them

it that woman's

10. Yes
it's wonderful but they
ought to

put it
back into the sea where
it came from.

11. Blouaugh!

12. Swing—ride
on wires—toss balls
stoop and

contort yourselves—
But I
am love. I am
from the sea—

13. Blouaugh!

14. there is no crime save
the too-heavy

the sea
held playfully—comes
to the surface
the water

about the head the cows
fish dripping from

the bounty
of . . .

15. and spring
they say
Spring is icummen in—

comparison of Williams' three "Blouaugh!"
16, Blouaugh! x 3

Williams' commentary (1:39)


17. My wife tells me I read the rougher pieces. Every man hates to expose himself in the . . . public (I was going to say) [Laughter].  

18. You don't like to reveal the more sensitive . . . feeling you may have perhaps. It's always easier to be a little . . . a little rough. At least it's a way of being timid, I suppose, showing your timidity anyhow.  

19. Because modern, the modern poet, such a one as I am, at least, does not seek the temple. There are those — and I don't mean to belittle them — such as Ezra Pound, who are always — T. S. Eliot, or some of the French, the distinguished poets of the past, W. B. Yeats,

20. they carry about with them an aura that is poetry it seems.  

21. Forgetting [louder] that you are the poetry for God's sake! Let 'em come down to you and lift you up!  

22. Anyhow, it's very attractive to have these wonderful people stand above you and make you feel like a worm. [Loud, sustained laughter]  

23. Uh? There're other things.  

24. Poetry in the past has been gutsy, it's been rough, it's been Villon, it's been parts of Shakespeare. It isn't only that temple thing.

Williams concludes the poem with a sly hommage to the ur-text of English literature, "Caedmon's Hymn," when he observes

15. "and spring / they say / Spring is icummen in—".

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© 2008 Bob Perelman & the Estate of William Carlos Williams. All rights reserved. Distributed by PennSound.