The Adoration of the Kings
In the poem, Adoration of the Kings by William Carlos Williams, the speaker depicts the scene of the Christian nativity as seen through the eyes of the painter, Pieter Bruegel. The poem’s language favors the depiction of the Kings over Jesus and his birth. Williams makes a reference to the “Italian masters” (10) or the renaissance painters who may have better illustrated the scene. The painting by Brueghel shows the Three Kings “in their stolen / splendor” (4-5) and the offering of their gifts to the newborn Jesus and his mother, Mary. The attention of the poem is focused on the Three Kings and what they have brought to the painting when attention should be focused on the birth of the savior, Jesus. This conflict is evident in the title of the painting itself. Bruegel’s purpose in his painting is explained through reading of the poem when Williams makes a reference to Bruegel being asked to do something but does not.
The title Adoration of the Kings foreshadows the speaker’s intent and where the poem will head in its language. The title conveys a sense of liking and worship towards the Three Kings rather than Jesus or Mary because they are not mentioned. The Kings are adored by the people in the painting surrounding Jesus and Mary. The eyes of the onlookers seem to wander more towards the gifts and the garments of the Three Kings. The kings have stolen the light from the monumental birth of Jesus and Williams chooses to elaborate on that in the poem.
The speaker begins with “From the Nativity / which I have already celebrated” (1-2), conveying the fact that William Carlos Williams may have been Christian who celebrated the birth of Jesus. An inference can be made that Williams has seen many depictions of the Nativity but finds Bruegel’s depiction special because it focuses on the grandeur of the Kings rather than on Jesus though most other Nativity scenes do the opposite. This focus on the Kings is evident when the speaker says “Joseph and the soldiery // attendant / with their incredulous faces / make a scene” (6 – 9) because they are gawking at the riches rather than Jesus. Williams uses what he notices right away after first looking at the painting in the beginning of his poem to establish this point of adoration towards the Kings and begins on why Bruegel chose to paint the picture the way he did.
Bruegel painted Adoration of the Kings “with a difference” (11) from the “Italian masters” (10) or renaissance painters who were known to depict scenes of Christianity with beauty and sometimes sarcasm. Williams makes this known when he writes “the alert mind dissatisfied with / what it is asked to / and cannot do” (16 – 18) showing that Bruegel does not choose to follow the standard that was set for him by the renaissance painters and their typical depictions of the Nativity. Williams’ use of many words and his choice for the placing of line breaks helps the reader infer that Bruegel was compelled to paint according to how the renaissance painters did. But Bruegel “cannot do” (18) it and so the Adoration of the Kings is a very different scene than any of the other Nativity scenes. Instead, Bruegel chooses to paint with a different kind of reality; the reality of the people staring at the Kings and not at Jesus; the reality of the people coming from far away to catch a glimpse of the gold worn by the rich. Williams’ accepts Bruegel’s view on the Nativity because it highlights the negative view on hoarding materialism found in his many socialist ideas.
The poem ends with a general feeling of acceptance as the speaker goes on to describe the painting “as a work of art / for profound worship” (23 -24). The use of many adjectives such as “brilliant” (20), “downcast” (22), and “profound” (24) all help to convey that sense of acceptance. The speaker’s language compliments Bruegel’s painting and what it is depicting as Williams switches from the painter’s purpose back to his view on the poem. In Adoration of the Kings, William Carlos Williams succeeds at exposing the overwhelming adoration for the Three Kings when the adoration should be felt for the baby, Jesus and his mother, Mary. Through the speaker’s use of suggestive language and the strategic placement of line breaks one feels as though Bruegel paints with individuality and goes against the accepted standard set by the “Italian masters” (10). The ending to Williams’ poem depicts his happiness and excitement in the ideas suggested by the painting almost as though he applauds the degrading of materialism accepts the reality presented of the Three Kings and their lavish prowess.