Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and spent a year of graduate study in pediatrics at Leipzig. Although as a doctor he spent much of his time seeing patients and delivering babies around his home town of Rutherford, he still found time to write more than 37 volumes of prose and poetry.
Williams began his literary career in 1909 with the publication of Poems, a volume that consisted mainly of verse written in an imitative style. It reflects the influence of his days at the University of Pennsylvania, where Williams had become friends with the poet Ezra Pound. As a result of this unique friendship, he became temporarily attached to the Imagist group, and through this association was brief, it left an enduring imprint on his poetic work.
Williams' poetry is characterized by his interest in everyday events. His verse may deal with such ordinary things as spring, a red wheelbarrow, flowers, plums, or yachts in a seascape. His writing reflects the physician's fondness for scrutinizing material things from an interior point of view, as well as people under all conditions of life. He views people from the moment of their birth until the moment of their death. Although the tone of his poetry is casual, his fondness for close observation imparts insight and substance to the final product.
In 1946, Williams began his long masterpiece, Paterson, and finished the four projected books in 1951. But he could not bring himself to end the poem and continued writing until he finished Book V in 1958. He was at work on Book VI at the time of his death in 1963. Paterson is the epic of a man-city, weaving together history, the contemporary scene, individual joy, and personal anguish. In its tone and mood it displays a certain similarity to Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
Probably more than any other modern poet, Williams searched for an American idiom, and in this search he developed his singular, personal style. His poetry remained affirmative and committed at a time when much of modern American poetry seemed to be negative and alienated, and his style maintained a simplicity and lucidity while other contemporary poetry progressed to intellectualism and deliberate ambiguity.