William Carlos Williams was born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound.
Pound became a great influence on Williams’s writing and, in 1913, arranged for the London publication of Williams’s second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where Williams sustained a medical practice throughout his life, he began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright.
Following Pound, Williams was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement; though, as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially T. S. Eliot, both of whom, he felt, were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic form, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.
Williams’s influence as a poet spread slowly during the 1920s and 1930s, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” His work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Imaginations (New Directions, 1970); the five-volume epic Paterson, first published by New Directions in 1963 and rereleased in 1992; and Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (New Directions, 1962), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Williams’s health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963.