Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself"

Earlier this week, I noted that two of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems are set in March.  The first of those poems was "Vacancy in the Park."  Today I give you the second.  Again, this is one of Stevens's late poems.  In fact, it is the final poem in his final book (his Collected Poems), which was published in 1954 -- the year before his death.

I suspect that Stevens seldom did anything without due deliberation.  He was, after all, a lawyer who worked for an insurance company (the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company) for nearly 40 years.  Hence, although Stevens is much too complex for me to suggest that a single poem sums up him or his thousands of lines of poetry, the fact that he chose this poem as his final published words bears consideration.

     Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier-mache . . .
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry -- it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away.  It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

Wallace Stevens, The Rock, in Collected Poems (1954).

                                 Paul Drury, "March Morning" (1933)    


From My Easy Chair said...

Since this was his last published poem, in the last line it's as though Stevens is saying that death is "A new knowledge of reality." Interesting concept.

Stephen Pentz said...

From My Easy Chair: as always, thank you for stopping by, and for the thought on the poem. Here is another possibility as well: in his final years, Stevens seemed to have second thoughts about whether he had lived his life too abstractly (hence the poem "First Warmth", which I have posted previously); thus, he may be suggesting that paying closer attention to the bird and the sun and other things "outside" is the "new knowledge of reality." But, with Stevens, who knows?