Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"The Planet On The Table"

I have often referred to the excellence of Wallace Stevens's late poems, particularly those that he wrote in his seventies.  Few poets have written so well at that age.  (Although I should note that Thomas Hardy has Stevens beat: he continued to write fine poetry into his eighties, and dictated his final poem on his death-bed at the age of 87.)

The following poem reflects Stevens's lifelong subject: the back-and-forth between the world and the imagination, and the results of that continual movement.  This creative movement was, for Stevens, the essence of what it means to be human.

        Thomas Henslow Barnard, "Landscape with Ludlow Castle" (1952)

        The Planet on the Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

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

Although Stevens writes about his own poems in "The Planet on the Table," I believe that he would recognize that all of us -- whether poets or not -- are capable of creating our own "poems" ("makings of the sun" and "makings of [the] self") whenever we engage in the back-and-forth movement between the imagination and the world.  We are all capable of creating a planet on a table.

                                  Thomas Henslow Barnard, "Still Life"


Fred said...


Curious. I wasn't aware of this poem by Stevens, but I find it interesting for several reasons. One is the poem itself--that "back-and-forth movement between the imagination and the world."

The second reason is that it is the title of a collection of short stories by Kim Stanley Robinson, a favorite author. I always wondered about the title but never got around to doing a search on it.

Robinson writes SF and Fantasy, which definitely are flights of fancy between this world and the imagination.

I can see why he used this for the title of his collection.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: my ignorance of science fiction is, I'm afraid, total, so I was not aware of that connection. It's very nice to see Stevens brought into that world!

As always, thanks for your thoughts.

Greg said...

This is very well said and I especially appreciate your remarks about Stevens' late poems. Their directness and clarity have a great power.

Stephen Pentz said...

Greg: thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts and kind words. I completely agree that Stevens' late poems have "great power." As much as I enjoy his earlier poetry, he begins to let in an emotion towards the end that is very moving.

Thank you again. I hope you will return soon.