Saturday, July 9, 2011

"The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain"

Wallace Stevens's poems about a mountain in Vermont and a hill in Tennessee (with a jar upon it) got me to thinking of another poem by Stevens.  In my youth ("Ah, no; the years O!" -- to borrow from Mr. Hardy) the following poem was my favorite Stevens poem.  Although it has now been replaced in that position by "The River of Rivers in Connecticut," I am still very fond of it.

        The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

Wallace Stevens, "The Rock" (1954), Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America 1997).

I am usually skeptical of poems about poetry or, worse yet, poems about the act of writing poetry.  But I am willing to make an exception in this case.  First, the poem is, after all, by Wallace Stevens, and, moreover, he wrote it in his seventies, when he was putting his poetic life in order.  He is entitled to deference.  (Contemporary American free-versifiers, on the other hand, not so much.)  Second, "poetry" for Stevens was akin to any intense act of the Imagination or, more long-windedly, the interaction between the Imagination and Reality (let's not get too carried away, though).

                              Arthur Dove, "Clouds and Water" (1930)

6 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I am always filled with ideas after reading your thoughts on the poems you post. Interesting. thanks

William A. Sigler said...

Nice blend of poem and painting, here. This poem has always struck me as one of Stevens' saddest, akin to James Wright's declaration that "I have wasted my life." It's both lucid in explaining "why he do dat" and wistfully silent on what the final product, the poem, is for. Maybe he doesn't know himself.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Fredua-Agyeman: thank you for visiting again, and for your kind words.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: hmmm. . . I've never thought of it as a sad poem. The line about recognizing "his unique and solitary home" suggests to me that he did indeed accomplish something. (Although "solitary" does imply that it was a lonely undertaking.)

I think also of another poem about his poetry in "The Rock": "The Planet on the Table," where he begins: "Ariel was glad he had written his poems."

But I see what you're getting at. As ever, thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

Manny said...

I've read a good bit of Stevens and I don't recall this poem. It's a really fine poem. I love the line, "Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion." That is so Stevens!

Stephen Pentz said...

Manny: thank you very much for visiting and commenting. I'm pleased that you like the poem. Yes, I agree that the line that you mention is classic Stevens.

Thanks again.