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This article is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

The Poet's Nascent Soul: Letters to his Brother Edgar (edited by Andrew Krivak) William Carlos Williams

When he wrote his Autobiography in the 1940s, William Carlos Williams presented his younger brother Edgar Irving Williams as little more than a sibling rival whom he loved but eventually outstretched. Williams's complete letters to Edgar, however, tell a different story. From 1902 to 1912 Williams's greatest epistolary partner was not Ezra Pound, Charles Demuth, or any other would-be modernist, but the brother he called `Bo', a talented, prize-winning architect who was more likely to become the celebrated artist in the Williams family than William himself.1

Prior to the publication of `The Wanderer' in 1914, the poem that heralded his distinctive modernist voice, Williams struggled for a full decade with competing cultural, artistic, professional and fraternal differences. It was a struggle that manifested itself in fits and starts, successes and setbacks, all of which he shared with Edgar.

As a university student in 1902, Williams's sense of poetics imitated the romantics of Palgrave's Golden Treasury, but his desire to be a physician and a writer was the result of the progressive Unitarianism in which both boys had been raised; the artist would see `beauty', the professional would know `truth', together they formed a cultured man. From 1906 to 1909, the years within which he worked as a doctor in Hell's Kitchen, published his first book, Poems, and travelled to Leipzig, Germany, Williams struggled to compete with his brother.2 Yet, never once (contrary to the story that they separated over their mutual love for Charlotte Herman) ...


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