William Carlos Williams, “The Crowd at the Ball Game,” Dial, 1921.
The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—
all the exciting detail
of the chase
and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—
all to no end save beauty
So in detail they, the crowd,
to be warned against
saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous
it smiles grimly
its words cut—
The flashy female with her
mother, gets it—
The Jew gets it straight—it
is deadly, terrifying—
It is the Inquisition, the
It is beauty itself
day by day in them
the power of their faces
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing
This is at first blush a description of the growing popularity of baseball & it can be found on various sports websites. But the poem is deeper & more profound & more sinister & possibly cynical as describes the crowd as " bored " & then appears " venomous ". And as he adds " The Jew gets it straight—it / is deadly, terrifying—It is the Inquisition, theRevolution " the crowd can be moved by what it hears & sees towards something good or something evil, it takes on a life of its own & the individual is also swept along ny the enthusiasm of the Crowd.
The poet describes the crowd as " beautiful" yet the crowd is to be " saluted " & " defied " - which suggests that as an individual one should be weary of how the crowd is being swayed & when necessary be resisted & "defied" & one should be alert even when the crowd is being swayed in what appears to be towards something good for the crowd cannot be trusted as it is a " venomous " snake about to strike out at the individual who dares resist its goals.
When Williams wrote this poem it was after the First World War & The Russian Revolution & in the twenties Fascism was on the rise in Europe & The Ku Klux Klan had risen in the US
( after the release of the film " Birth Of A Nation " an example of art & propaganda ; which was seen by some as a call to arms for white Christian Americans to protect themselves from what they feared or mistakenly believed were the negative influences of African Americans & other immigrant minorities such as the Irish Catholics & other foreign cultures.)
Those in power often to get wider support appeal to our baser & darker side of ourNativist & racist & xenophobic side to appeal to our fear , hate, anger, resentment & feeding & bolstering our sense of superiority over other races or nations or cultures.
So the crowd could be influenced by those who chose to & those who knew how to from Billy Sunday to Woodrow Wilson or by the disastrous consequences of the temperance movement to Lenin & Trotsky & those who arose after the poem was written from Franco to Mousillini & Hitler & Stalin.
In the same way as Europeans were swept up in the Inquisition & the Witch Hunts & the Crusades the poet here leaves open in what direction the Crowd may be swayed next.
In our own time some would suggest that the crowd has been mesmerized by the likes of George W. Bush in that whatever he says his true believers will defend even when it offends common sense or the reality of the situation.
So what he is hinting at here is how propaganda techniques could be used to influence the Crowd or the people of a nation or of a number of nations given the right circumstances & the use of the popular medium newspapers, radio, mass meetings, pamphlets etc.
So the poem is not just about baseball. The ending is a bit ambiguous as the Crowd is laughing / in detail / permanently, seriously / without thought- here the crowd is happy , cheerful but they are " without thought "- here in lies the dilemma for anyone could now sway the crowd in a very different direction ie. to turn on the Jewish people in the crowd or others who are a minority & who somehow could be seen as unwanted forein influences in American society but this notion transcends any national boundaries & can happen anywhere.
Love you too,