Once again it’s time to play Symbol or No-symbol. Does “Poem” contain a symbol? Or is it symbolic of anything? This one should be an easy one for those who know William Carlos Williams’s work, but lets go through it anyways.
On the surface it is the story of a cat. The descriptions are sparse and very matter of fact. I count only two adjectives (unless “top of” can be counted as an adjective, then three) and one adverb. Modifiers such as adjectives and adverbs add meaning and thus often point to symbols, but are not necessarily the indication of one. Sometimes we only need to look to the context of the poem.
So, the story of a cat. Unless we anthropomorphize the creature, the story for any cat, dog, bird, fish, (etc..) should be a simple one. If there is anything complex going on in their little heads, it is far beyond our capacities to know what that might be; they see what they want and go after it. This cat is cat cat, he doesn’t worry about what is going to happen to his mistress or if there should be something better he should be doing or if he can accomplish more, he just sees somewhere he wants to be and goes there.
Does the jamcloset symbolize Man’s carnal desires, his thoughts of food above all other “higher” pursuits? If it does, I can’t see how. In fact, I could take out the word “jamcloset” and replace it with “closet” or “shelf” or “football star” and it would still have the same meaning (though I think that the football star would have something to say about it). Does the empty flower pot symbolize the emptiness we all feel at the end of a journey? Our pursuit fulfilled and now nothing more of importance for us to do? If you want to read it that way, you could, but that would most likely be you bringing your own reading to the poem. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the cat feels either way, empty or rewarded, about the end of his journey. It is the flowerpot that is empty, but the cat…is still just a cat.
Does the fact that the title of the poem is “Poem” give it any symbolic significance? It is curious that the title doesn’t say anything about the subject of the poem, but it could be something else. Perhaps we taking a more objective look at this poem, to look at its form instead of its content. It’s a poem in the form of a.. poem.
So, for this poem I would say, No-symbol.
William Carlos Williams
As the cat
climbed over the top of
first the right
then the hind
into the pit of