Monday, April 17, 2006

Wallace Stevens - I

If you haven't yet, please read the Introduction to Wallace Stevens, which will provide bibliographic and biographical data about the poet, as well as some insight into his often difficult verse. The selections for today are all from his first collection, Harmonium, published in 1923.

From Harmonium: Stevens's first collection.
In the Carolinas

The lilacs wither in the Carolinas.
Already the butterflies flutter above the cabins.
Already the new-born children interpret love
In the voices of mothers.

Timeless mother,
How is it that your aspic nipples
For once vent honey?

The pine-tree sweetens my body
The white iris beautifies me.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

On the Manner of Addressing Clouds

Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns,
Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous,
Eliciting the still sustaining pomps
Of speech which are like music so profound
They seem an exaltation without sound.
Funest philosophers and ponderers,
Their evocations are the speech of clouds.

So speech of your processionals returns
In the casual evocations of your tread
Across the stale, mysterious seasons. These
Are the music of meet resignation; these
The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you
To magnify, if in that drifting waste
You are to be accompanied by more
Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
Enjoy! Please contact me with requests.

Wallace Stevens - Intro

Wallace Stevens - (1878-1955) - Stevens was one of the few great practicing poets to have ever lived who had a day job beyond writing. His first work, Harmonium, appeared at the dawn of the early surge in Modernist poetry - when the movement was at its earliest peak. It received a rather lukewarm reception; however, a spate of great Modernist works appearing between 1922-24 provides much insight into this. In the same year, e. e. cummings published Tulips and Chimneys and William Carlos Williams published Spring and All. The year previous saw the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land as well as Edna St. Vincent-Millay's The Harp Weaver; and the year following would produce Observations, by Marianne Moore, and Chills and Fever, by John Crowe Ransom.

From the present perspective, we see Harmonium as a definitive collection of its time: it is self-consciously seeking style; affirmative and enthusiastic, but tinged with darker thoughts of depression and defiance (Riddel 52). It also introduced the world to the first realizations of his beliefs, clarified in the "Adagia" of Opus Posthumous: first, "It is life that we are trying to get in poetry"; and second, "After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption." (157-58). Stevens, like many of his contemporaries, felt that the creator espoused by Christianity was far too distant to serve as the mediator between man and reality (Gilbert 82), and that the imagination was the only way through which man could perceive his world (Gustafson 85). He reconciled these through the language of his poetry, casting commonplace ideas, articles, and beliefs in a new way, the purpose of which was to force the reader to see the world around him, in which he was embedded in habitual practices precluding genuine perception and understanding of that world.

From a much longer essay/article. The sources are below. Please e-mail me for a complete copy of the essay.

Gilbert, Sandra M. ""Rats' Alley": The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)Pastoral Elegy." New Literary History 30.1 (1999): 179-201.

Gustafson, Richard. "The Practick of the Maker in Wallace Stevens." Twentieth Century Literature 9.2 (1963): 83-88.

Riddel, Joseph N. The Clairvoyant Eye: The Poetry and Poetics of Wallace Stevens. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1965.

All Stevens Poetry comes from either:
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. 1954. New York: Vintage, 1990.


Opus Posthumous. Ed. Samuel F. Morse. London: Faber and Faber, 1959.

Friday, April 14, 2006

e. e. cummings

I think that it's time for my favorite from e. e. cummings. You'll know why when you read it.

"I Sing of Olaf Glad and Big"

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov├ęd colonel (trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--through an host of overjoyed
noncoms (first knocking on the head
him) do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments -
Olaf (being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds, without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but - though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat0
Olaf (upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some s. I will not eat"

our president, being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon, where he died

Christ (of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see; and Olaf, too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me; more blond than you.