The Ivy Crown Poem Analysis Essay

“Antony and Cleopatra
were right;
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
at all.”*

One of my early conversations with my love, my firewall – an all-night affair that turned to the obscurity of poetry’s meaning in the early hours of a winter morning – focused on William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”. Me being the amateur poetry connoisseur, I talked with him about how difficult it was for high school kids to be forced to read and analyze poetry. I shared the tales of how the most literal guy I knew (a guy named Frank) was forced to perform analysis on this Williams classic. Granted, I love poetry, but I failed to see the genius of that particular Williams piece. I can spend time now discussing it, even if it is only to argue for or against the (artistic) value of this poem, but at 16 or 17, the William Carlos Williams oeuvre was fairly meaningless and easy to dismiss.

That’s the beauty of poetry, in any case. Something that has no meaning or feels totally pretentious at one point upon initial reading may take on a whole new meaning later when seen through the filter of life experience. Sometimes poetry sinks in. I find that certain lines stick with me and then fit so perfectly as descriptive postscripts to life’s experiences. Poets are poets for a reason – they can almost magically capture something succinctly – ineffable feelings and thoughts. Thus, although I might want to express whatever it is I think or feel, a poet (or songwriter) has undoubtedly done it before me and better.

That said, I still don’t love the wheelbarrow poem, but I have long been in love with Williams’s poem “The Ivy Crown” – its meaning (or my interpretation of it) becomes more impressive to me all the time (impressive in the sense that it leaves impressions). It too has taken on variable and deeper meanings for me as I get older. It captures for me the cynicism I have always felt about the idea of love and romance while not negating it or throwing it out entirely; indeed, at this middle-age mark only finding the somewhat transformative “business of love” actively at this point, the whole theme is rather topical for me.

“Romance has no part in it.
The business of love is
cruelty which,
by our wills,
we transform
to live together.
It has its seasons,
for and against,
whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
to assert
toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
through them.
the briars out,
they say.
You cannot live
and keep free of
“At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
lifts us
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and selfish
and totally obtuse—
at least, blinded by the light,
young love is.*

“Older love” must be a kind of weird thing. You bring half a lifetime of past experience (some would argue baggage) into each new relationship. I feel like I have very little of the traditional baggage since I was never married, never had kids, no complicated stuff from the past. I have glided through my own personal life as I have glided casually into and out of other people’s lives. I never wanted to be much more than a “guest star” (as on The Love Boat – but I am not Charo) in most people’s lives, so hooking up with married idiots or people who were otherwise unavailable to me in the long term or in some greater capacity than a casual weekend has been my modus operandi.

I discussed with my brother how the weirdness of this creeps into your self-awareness and creates a strange kind of doubt. You may have chosen this lifestyle (as I did) but at some point, you start to feel a distance from humanity, want to be alone more than is really healthy and start to feel out of step with basic norms, and it becomes the status quo. Your own perception of normal. It feels like it will not change, and you don’t expect it to. You become more withdrawn, and as such, you are more invisible – so it is a self-perpetuating cycle. It’s not like there is no chance that you’d meet someone who could love you or even like you a lot – it is just that you can’t if you’re not open to it. The weirder you feel, the more closed you become.

But “older” does not mean there are no surprises, as I have found at various turns. Time and age actually don’t make any difference. It’s a matter of attitude and willingness.

“But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
we have,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
to keep
the jeweled prize
at our finger tips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.”*

*Excerpts of “The Ivy Crown” by William Carlos Williams

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  • DateMarch 29, 2014
  • Tagsbaggage, Charo, guest stars, ineffable feeling, love, love in middle age, normalcy, older love, poems, poetry, poetry analysis, the ivy crown, The Love Boat, The Red Wheelbarrow, weirdos, william carlos williams

3implications. In this it is revealing to compare ‘Between Walls’ with the more famous‘Red Wheelbarrow’ poem, which when first published did not have a title, and so wewere asked to directly look at the objects as themselves and they’re relation to eachother as one might look at an untitled painting. The “walls” may of course be themind of the perceiver, thus implying that the body of the poem is his poetic treatmentof the objective scene. So there are immediate juxtapositions between public andprivate spaces, between objective and subjective perception through Williams’“carefully triangulated configuration”


between poet, object and reader. Furthermoreby framing the poem thus, we are challenged it seems to either read the piece literally,‘between walls’, or metaphorically and there is this play on where to locate meaning,where words and objects may not just be thought of as functional but rather arepoetically charged. So, two very different readings may be thought to co-existsimultaneously. It is the poet’s role to ‘form’ the poem and the reader’s role tointerpret.Williams however manipulates words with obliquely connotative meanings, wieldingconcealed symbolic terms which are metaphorically suggestive, such as “wings” inthe first line ‘cinders’ or even the colour ‘green’ with its implicit association withnatural vegetation and growth. Though Williams is traditionally seen to be resistant toovert symbolism using instead direct description this poem would not be as successfulI would argue were it not for the purposeful placing of connotative terms which arefigurative and suggest meaning over and above “direct treatment”


. This may bethought of as verbal art where the poet uses words to convey tone and treatment whileat the same time allowing no superfluity to distract or impede the simplicity for whichthis poet strenuously strives for. The image is to stand alone naked on the page “Thisis measure freed to informal responsibilities of speech, poetry metrically loosened,American-




In addition a close reading of this poem reveals many astute technical effectspurposefully exploited by the poet to enliven the poem as it appears on the page andas it may be spoken. There are aural half-rhymes echoing throughout, combiningsounds to enrich meaning, for example, between “wings”, “nothing”, “cinders”, “in”and “broken” which is also a half-rhyme with “grow”. This acts as a sort of rhymingsequence linking the first four stanzas and only changed in the last by the longer


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