Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Never-Resting Mind

As regular readers know, Saturday is Poetry Day.

Today’s featured poet is Wallace Stevens (American, 1879-1955), my favorite modern poet. His best-known work is probably “Sunday Morning”, but he wrote many other fine poems. I quoted from the “The Poems of Our Climate” a while back, so it’s only fair to post the entire poem. Its three brief stanzas are admirable for their spareness and economy of diction.

For readers who are interested, other poems by Stevens that are worth examining include “The Idea of Order at Key West”, “The Lack of Repose”, and “Of Mere Being”.

Detail from 'Carnations' by Frances Walker

The Poems of Our Climate
by Wallace Stevens


Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations — one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.


Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.


There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.


Papa Whiskey said...

With practice and prudent analysis
One can induce flaccid paralysis
OBL lost his grip
And perforce he did sip
From the last and most bitter of chalices

John Mose, never one for half-steppin'
Invented one hell of a weapon
His great forty-five
Has kept many alive
And that's just what I'm currently schleppin'

saladin said...

Wallace Stevens best poem is The Emperor of Icecream.
So there.

Hesperado said...

While the "imperfect paradise" of Wallace Stevens is certainly preferable to the fanatically delusional paradise of Islam, it seems more imbued with the slackness of comfortably post-modern agnosticism, having thrown out the carnations with the flower water; pleasantly ignoring the tension between realized and "konsequent" eschatologies which classically have formed the tension of existence for the West.

Some medieval Jewish rabbis (I have forgotten the name or school) posited that mankind (and/or the human soul) exists ordered by three Paradises, which I will list out of order for rhetorical effect:

1) The original Paradise symbolized in Genesis.

3) The future Paradise hoped for, which will be the perfect fulfillment of all our longings.

2) The Paradise in-between the former two: which is history, life itself. Indeed imperfect; but not the seemingly merely free-floating imperfection of Stevens, but rather a tensional imperfection of which such free-floating would be a part but not the whole. On the other hand, one detects in Stevens' final lines a disturbance:

Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Trouble in imperfect paradise?