Complete Destruction - (2008)
William Carlos Williams
for medium voice and piano
It was an icy day.
We buried the cat,
then took her box
fire to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
died by the cold.
Original text: William Carlos Williams, Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems
(Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921)
[ 1 page, circa 1' 10" ]
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was a physician in Rutherford, New Jersey, from 1910
to 1951, and in hours after work wrote fiction, poetry, plays, and
criticism. He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (1902-06),
and there met Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle. He interned at the French
Hospital and Nursery and Child's Hospital until 1909, and the next year,
after studying briefly in Leipzig, touring Europe, and visiting his old
friend Pound in London, set up his private medical practice in Rutherford.
Williams established himself as a modernist poet with four books of verse,
Al Que Quiere! (1917), Kora in Hell (1920), Sour Grapes
(1921), and Spring and All (1921). His poetry was not initially well
received; for this he wrote fiction and plays, but the major work of his
life proved to be Paterson, an epic poem published in five volumes
from 1946 to 1958. In 1950 Williams was elected to the National
Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1953 shared the Bollingen Award with
Archibald MacLeish. All his life, from his early editing of Contact
in 1923, Williams befriended younger poets. He was posthumously awarded the
Pulitzer Prize and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of
Arts and Letters.
This strange, short poem is something akin to haiku, on the one hand, and a
unrhymed free verse vignette. Odd as the subject matter is, the text struck
me for its terse examination of such minutiae as a dead cat's fleas. For
this the setting is a short minute in length, brittle in its use of the
higher range of the piano, and dark for its emphasis on the added minor six
for each accompanying triad. The sagging and slipping chromaticism
frustrates the sense of a clearly voiced tonality and yet the setting is
The score for Complete Destruction is available as a free PDF
download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work
is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the
graphic below for this piano-vocal score.