The quote that most often closed his letters (sometimes in full, sometimes indicated with just the words ‘chaff & grain’) was from a forgotten Victorian novelist, Mrs Craik: ‘Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.’
Williams, whose mind was a compendium of verses and tag lines, sources and quotations, felt his thoughts were clearest when told in other people’s words. Wilfred Owen, Roy Fuller, A.E. Housman, John Milton and T.S. Eliot all left deep grooves to which he returned for handholds, proving the truth of an argument by showing that the thought had been beautifully phrased by a better mind.