By William Carlos Williams
I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral
for you have it over a troop
unless one should scour the world-
you have the ground sense necessary.
See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ's sake not black-
nor white either-and not polished!
Let it be weathered-like a farm wagon-
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.
Knock the glass out!
My God-glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
how well he is housed or to see
the flowers or the lack of them-
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass-
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom-
my townspeople what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.
No wreaths please-
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes-a few books perhaps-
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
something will be found-anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.
For heaven's sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that's no place at all for him-
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down-bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! Id not have him ride
on the wagon at all-damn him-
the undertaker's understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!
Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind-as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly-
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What-from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us-it will be money
in your pockets.
I think you are ready.
In the poem "Tract," the voice is represented by an irritated observer. He has watched the pomp and circumstance of an English funeral and finds it quite ridiculous. He has taken upon himself the role of a teacher in order to instruct the townspeople in the proper protocol of funerals. In the first stanza he refers to the participants in the funeral as a "troop of artists." This could be an allegorical reference to William Carlos Williams' fellow poets.
On the face of the poem, the voice begins the instruction with "a design for a hearse." The hearse should be, "not black-nor white either-and not polished! Let it be weathered-like a farm wagon'" Though the voice states that it is giving a "design" for a hearse, it is actually saying there should be no design. The way to the grave should be natural and one shouldn't make more of death than what actually exists.
In the third stanza the voice becomes somewhat patronizing and sarcastic. The observer instructs the townspeople to, "Knock the glass out!" (of the hearse). The "I" asks, "For what purpose? Is it for the dead to look out or for us to see how well he is housed or to see the flowers or the lack of them-or what?" It goes on to reject the "upholstery," the "little brass rollers," and the "small easy wheels on the bottom." Often times when a person dies, the value of their life is judged by the expense of the funeral accoutrements or the quantity of flowers at the funeral. The voice is stating that this shouldn't be a time to judge the value of the dead one's life, but a time to give dignity to his death. Death should not be dressed up. It should be viewed as it is, an end to the natural culmination of a life.
The "I" pleads, "No wreaths please-especially not hot house flowers. Some common memento is better, something he prized and is known by: his old clothes-a few books perhaps--." This appears to be another comment on not using artificial trappings in death. One understands that the "I" would have preferred a single daisy on the coffin rather than a hundred, expensive floral displays. And even the daisy should have some sort of meaning that pertains to the life of the dead person. The voice is asking, Why make a person more in death than he was in life? If the dead person was a farmer, then sprinkle some grain on his grave. It will better embody the spirit of his life, the accomplishments of his work, and the nature of his character.
The "I" goes on to instruct the townspeople to, "see to the driver! Take off the silk hat!" and, "Bring him down-bring him down! Low and inconspicuous!" Even in the sorrowful death of a loved one, people tend to put on a show for the living. A funeral should be dedicated to the dead one, not those in attendance. The participants should not perform ...
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