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by Wallace Stevens |

THE COMEDIAN AS THE LETTER C

I 

The World without Imagination 

1 Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil, 
2 The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates 
3 Of snails, musician of pears, principium 
4 And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig 
5 Of things, this nincompated pedagogue, 
6 Preceptor to the sea? Crispin at sea 
7 Created, in his day, a touch of doubt. 
8 An eye most apt in gelatines and jupes, 
9 Berries of villages, a barber's eye, 
10 An eye of land, of simple salad-beds, 
11 Of honest quilts, the eye of Crispin, hung 
12 On porpoises, instead of apricots, 
13 And on silentious porpoises, whose snouts 
14 Dibbled in waves that were mustachios, 
15 Inscrutable hair in an inscrutable world. 

16 One eats one pat¨¦, even of salt, quotha. 
17 It was not so much the lost terrestrial, 
18 The snug hibernal from that sea and salt, 
19 That century of wind in a single puff. 
20 What counted was mythology of self, 
21 Blotched out beyond unblotching. Crispin, 
22 The lutanist of fleas, the knave, the thane, 
23 The ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches, cloak 
24 Of China, cap of Spain, imperative haw 
25 Of hum, inquisitorial botanist, 
26 And general lexicographer of mute 
27 And maidenly greenhorns, now beheld himself, 
28 A skinny sailor peering in the sea-glass. 
29 What word split up in clickering syllables 
30 And storming under multitudinous tones 
31 Was name for this short-shanks in all that brunt? 
32 Crispin was washed away by magnitude. 
33 The whole of life that still remained in him 
34 Dwindled to one sound strumming in his ear, 
35 Ubiquitous concussion, slap and sigh, 
36 Polyphony beyond his baton's thrust. 

37 Could Crispin stem verboseness in the sea, 
38 The old age of a watery realist, 
39 Triton, dissolved in shifting diaphanes 
40 Of blue and green? A wordy, watery age 
41 That whispered to the sun's compassion, made 
42 A convocation, nightly, of the sea-stars, 
43 And on the cropping foot-ways of the moon 
44 Lay grovelling. Triton incomplicate with that 
45 Which made him Triton, nothing left of him, 
46 Except in faint, memorial gesturings, 
47 That were like arms and shoulders in the waves, 
48 Here, something in the rise and fall of wind 
49 That seemed hallucinating horn, and here, 
50 A sunken voice, both of remembering 
51 And of forgetfulness, in alternate strain. 
52 Just so an ancient Crispin was dissolved. 
53 The valet in the tempest was annulled. 
54 Bordeaux to Yucatan, Havana next, 
55 And then to Carolina. Simple jaunt. 
56 Crispin, merest minuscule in the gates, 
57 Dejected his manner to the turbulence. 
58 The salt hung on his spirit like a frost, 
59 The dead brine melted in him like a dew 
60 Of winter, until nothing of himself 
61 Remained, except some starker, barer self 
62 In a starker, barer world, in which the sun 
63 Was not the sun because it never shone 
64 With bland complaisance on pale parasols, 
65 Beetled, in chapels, on the chaste bouquets. 
66 Against his pipping sounds a trumpet cried 
67 Celestial sneering boisterously. Crispin 
68 Became an introspective voyager. 

69 Here was the veritable ding an sich, at last, 
70 Crispin confronting it, a vocable thing, 
71 But with a speech belched out of hoary darks 
72 Noway resembling his, a visible thing, 
73 And excepting negligible Triton, free 
74 From the unavoidable shadow of himself 
75 That lay elsewhere around him. Severance 
76 Was clear. The last distortion of romance 
77 Forsook the insatiable egotist. The sea 
78 Severs not only lands but also selves. 
79 Here was no help before reality. 
80 Crispin beheld and Crispin was made new. 
81 The imagination, here, could not evade, 
82 In poems of plums, the strict austerity 
83 Of one vast, subjugating, final tone. 
84 The drenching of stale lives no more fell down. 
85 What was this gaudy, gusty panoply? 
86 Out of what swift destruction did it spring? 
87 It was caparison of mind and cloud 
88 And something given to make whole among 
89 The ruses that were shattered by the large. 

II 

Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan 

90 In Yucatan, the Maya sonneteers 
91 Of the Caribbean amphitheatre, 
92 In spite of hawk and falcon, green toucan 
93 And jay, still to the night-bird made their plea, 
94 As if raspberry tanagers in palms, 
95 High up in orange air, were barbarous. 
96 But Crispin was too destitute to find 
97 In any commonplace the sought-for aid. 
98 He was a man made vivid by the sea, 
99 A man come out of luminous traversing, 
100 Much trumpeted, made desperately clear, 
101 Fresh from discoveries of tidal skies, 
102 To whom oracular rockings gave no rest. 
103 Into a savage color he went on. 

104 How greatly had he grown in his demesne, 
105 This auditor of insects! He that saw 
106 The stride of vanishing autumn in a park 
107 By way of decorous melancholy; he 
108 That wrote his couplet yearly to the spring, 
109 As dissertation of profound delight, 
110 Stopping, on voyage, in a land of snakes, 
111 Found his vicissitudes had much enlarged 
112 His apprehension, made him intricate 
113 In moody rucks, and difficult and strange 
114 In all desires, his destitution's mark. 
115 He was in this as other freemen are, 
116 Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly. 
117 His violence was for aggrandizement 
118 And not for stupor, such as music makes 
119 For sleepers halfway waking. He perceived 
120 That coolness for his heat came suddenly, 
121 And only, in the fables that he scrawled 
122 With his own quill, in its indigenous dew, 
123 Of an aesthetic tough, diverse, untamed, 
124 Incredible to prudes, the mint of dirt, 
125 Green barbarism turning paradigm. 
126 Crispin foresaw a curious promenade 
127 Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate, 
128 And elemental potencies and pangs, 
129 And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen, 
130 Making the most of savagery of palms, 
131 Of moonlight on the thick, cadaverous bloom 
132 That yuccas breed, and of the panther's tread. 
133 The fabulous and its intrinsic verse 
134 Came like two spirits parlaying, adorned 
135 In radiance from the Atlantic coign, 
136 For Crispin and his quill to catechize. 
137 But they came parlaying of such an earth, 
138 So thick with sides and jagged lops of green, 
139 So intertwined with serpent-kin encoiled 
140 Among the purple tufts, the scarlet crowns, 
141 Scenting the jungle in their refuges, 
142 So streaked with yellow, blue and green and red 
143 In beak and bud and fruity gobbet-skins, 
144 That earth was like a jostling festival 
145 Of seeds grown fat, too juicily opulent, 
146 Expanding in the gold's maternal warmth. 
147 So much for that. The affectionate emigrant found 
148 A new reality in parrot-squawks. 
149 Yet let that trifle pass. Now, as this odd 
150 Discoverer walked through the harbor streets 
151 Inspecting the cabildo, the fa?ade 
152 Of the cathedral, making notes, he heard 
153 A rumbling, west of Mexico, it seemed, 
154 Approaching like a gasconade of drums. 
155 The white cabildo darkened, the fa?ade, 
156 As sullen as the sky, was swallowed up 
157 In swift, successive shadows, dolefully. 
158 The rumbling broadened as it fell. The wind, 
159 Tempestuous clarion, with heavy cry, 
160 Came bluntly thundering, more terrible 
161 Than the revenge of music on bassoons. 
162 Gesticulating lightning, mystical, 
163 Made pallid flitter. Crispin, here, took flight. 
164 An annotator has his scruples, too. 
165 He knelt in the cathedral with the rest, 
166 This connoisseur of elemental fate, 
167 Aware of exquisite thought. The storm was one 
168 Of many proclamations of the kind, 
169 Proclaiming something harsher than he learned 
170 From hearing signboards whimper in cold nights 
171 Or seeing the midsummer artifice 
172 Of heat upon his pane. This was the span 
173 Of force, the quintessential fact, the note 
174 Of Vulcan, that a valet seeks to own, 
175 The thing that makes him envious in phrase. 

176 And while the torrent on the roof still droned 
177 He felt the Andean breath. His mind was free 
178 And more than free, elate, intent, profound 
179 And studious of a self possessing him, 
180 That was not in him in the crusty town 
181 From which he sailed. Beyond him, westward, lay 
182 The mountainous ridges, purple balustrades, 
183 In which the thunder, lapsing in its clap, 
184 Let down gigantic quavers of its voice, 
185 For Crispin to vociferate again. 

III 

Approaching Carolina 

186 The book of moonlight is not written yet 
187 Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room 
188 For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire, 
189 Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage 
190 Through sweating changes, never could forget 
191 That wakefulness or meditating sleep, 
192 In which the sulky strophes willingly 
193 Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs. 
194 Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book 
195 For the legendary moonlight that once burned 
196 In Crispin's mind above a continent. 
197 America was always north to him, 
198 A northern west or western north, but north, 
199 And thereby polar, polar-purple, chilled 
200 And lank, rising and slumping from a sea 
201 Of hardy foam, receding flatly, spread 
202 In endless ledges, glittering, submerged 
203 And cold in a boreal mistiness of the moon. 
204 The spring came there in clinking pannicles 
205 Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came, 
206 If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening, 
207 Before the winter's vacancy returned. 
208 The myrtle, if the myrtle ever bloomed, 
209 Was like a glacial pink upon the air. 
210 The green palmettoes in crepuscular ice 
211 Clipped frigidly blue-black meridians, 
212 Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly drawn. 

213 How many poems he denied himself 
214 In his observant progress, lesser things 
215 Than the relentless contact he desired; 
216 How many sea-masks he ignored; what sounds 
217 He shut out from his tempering ear; what thoughts, 
218 Like jades affecting the sequestered bride; 
219 And what descants, he sent to banishment! 
220 Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave 
221 The liaison, the blissful liaison, 
222 Between himself and his environment, 
223 Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight, 
224 For him, and not for him alone. It seemed 
225 Elusive, faint, more mist than moon, perverse, 
226 Wrong as a divagation to Peking, 
227 To him that postulated as his theme 
228 The vulgar, as his theme and hymn and flight, 
229 A passionately niggling nightingale. 
230 Moonlight was an evasion, or, if not, 
231 A minor meeting, facile, delicate. 

232 Thus he conceived his voyaging to be 
233 An up and down between two elements, 
234 A fluctuating between sun and moon, 
235 A sally into gold and crimson forms, 
236 As on this voyage, out of goblinry, 
237 And then retirement like a turning back 
238 And sinking down to the indulgences 
239 That in the moonlight have their habitude. 
240 But let these backward lapses, if they would, 
241 Grind their seductions on him, Crispin knew 
242 It was a flourishing tropic he required 
243 For his refreshment, an abundant zone, 
244 Prickly and obdurate, dense, harmonious 
245 Yet with a harmony not rarefied 
246 Nor fined for the inhibited instruments 
247 Of over-civil stops. And thus he tossed 
248 Between a Carolina of old time, 
249 A little juvenile, an ancient whim, 
250 And the visible, circumspect presentment drawn 
251 From what he saw across his vessel's prow. 

252 He came. The poetic hero without palms 
253 Or jugglery, without regalia. 
254 And as he came he saw that it was spring, 
255 A time abhorrent to the nihilist 
256 Or searcher for the fecund minimum. 
257 The moonlight fiction disappeared. The spring, 
258 Although contending featly in its veils, 
259 Irised in dew and early fragrancies, 
260 Was gemmy marionette to him that sought 
261 A sinewy nakedness. A river bore 
262 The vessel inward. Tilting up his nose, 
263 He inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells 
264 Of dampened lumber, emanations blown 
265 From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes, 
266 Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks 
267 That helped him round his rude aesthetic out. 
268 He savored rankness like a sensualist. 
269 He marked the marshy ground around the dock, 
270 The crawling railroad spur, the rotten fence, 
271 Curriculum for the marvellous sophomore. 
272 It purified. It made him see how much 
273 Of what he saw he never saw at all. 
274 He gripped more closely the essential prose 
275 As being, in a world so falsified, 
276 The one integrity for him, the one 
277 Discovery still possible to make, 
278 To which all poems were incident, unless 
279 That prose should wear a poem's guise at last. 

IV 

The Idea of a Colony 

280 Nota: his soil is man's intelligence. 
281 That's better. That's worth crossing seas to find. 
282 Crispin in one laconic phrase laid bare 
283 His cloudy drift and planned a colony. 
284 Exit the mental moonlight, exit lex, 
285 Rex and principium, exit the whole 
286 Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose 
287 More exquisite than any tumbling verse: 
288 A still new continent in which to dwell. 
289 What was the purpose of his pilgrimage, 
290 Whatever shape it took in Crispin's mind, 
291 If not, when all is said, to drive away 
292 The shadow of his fellows from the skies, 
293 And, from their stale intelligence released, 
294 To make a new intelligence prevail? 
295 Hence the reverberations in the words 
296 Of his first central hymns, the celebrants 
297 Of rankest trivia, tests of the strength 
298 Of his aesthetic, his philosophy, 
299 The more invidious, the more desired. 
300 The florist asking aid from cabbages, 
301 The rich man going bare, the paladin 
302 Afraid, the blind man as astronomer, 
303 The appointed power unwielded from disdain. 
304 His western voyage ended and began. 
305 The torment of fastidious thought grew slack, 
306 Another, still more bellicose, came on. 
307 He, therefore, wrote his prolegomena, 
308 And, being full of the caprice, inscribed 
309 Commingled souvenirs and prophecies. 
310 He made a singular collation. Thus: 
311 The natives of the rain are rainy men. 
312 Although they paint effulgent, azure lakes, 
313 And April hillsides wooded white and pink, 
314 Their azure has a cloudy edge, their white 
315 And pink, the water bright that dogwood bears. 
316 And in their music showering sounds intone. 
317 On what strange froth does the gross Indian dote, 
318 What Eden sapling gum, what honeyed gore, 
319 What pulpy dram distilled of innocence, 
320 That streaking gold should speak in him 
321 Or bask within his images and words? 
322 If these rude instances impeach themselves 
323 By force of rudeness, let the principle 
324 Be plain. For application Crispin strove, 
325 Abhorring Turk as Esquimau, the lute 
326 As the marimba, the magnolia as rose. 

327 Upon these premises propounding, he 
328 Projected a colony that should extend 
329 To the dusk of a whistling south below the south. 
330 A comprehensive island hemisphere. 
331 The man in Georgia waking among pines 
332 Should be pine-spokesman. The responsive man, 
333 Planting his pristine cores in Florida, 
334 Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery, 
335 But on the banjo's categorical gut, 
336 Tuck tuck, while the flamingos flapped his bays. 
337 Sepulchral se?ors, bibbing pale mescal, 
338 Oblivious to the Aztec almanacs, 
339 Should make the intricate Sierra scan. 
340 And dark Brazilians in their caf¨¦s, 
341 Musing immaculate, pampean dits, 
342 Should scrawl a vigilant anthology, 
343 To be their latest, lucent paramour. 
344 These are the broadest instances. Crispin, 
345 Progenitor of such extensive scope, 
346 Was not indifferent to smart detail. 
347 The melon should have apposite ritual, 
348 Performed in verd apparel, and the peach, 
349 When its black branches came to bud, belle day, 
350 Should have an incantation. And again, 
351 When piled on salvers its aroma steeped 
352 The summer, it should have a sacrament 
353 And celebration. Shrewd novitiates 
354 Should be the clerks of our experience. 

355 These bland excursions into time to come, 
356 Related in romance to backward flights, 
357 However prodigal, however proud, 
358 Contained in their afflatus the reproach 
359 That first drove Crispin to his wandering. 
360 He could not be content with counterfeit, 
361 With masquerade of thought, with hapless words 
362 That must belie the racking masquerade, 
363 With fictive flourishes that preordained 
364 His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree 
365 Of buttons, measure of his salt. Such trash 
366 Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly. 
367 It irked beyond his patience. Hence it was, 
368 Preferring text to gloss, he humbly served 
369 Grotesque apprenticeship to chance event, 
370 A clown, perhaps, but an aspiring clown. 
371 There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams 
372 That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs 
373 Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not 
374 The oncoming fantasies of better birth. 
375 The apprentice knew these dreamers. If he dreamed 
376 Their dreams, he did it in a gingerly way. 
377 All dreams are vexing. Let them be expunged. 
378 But let the rabbit run, the cock declaim. 

379 Trinket pasticcio, flaunting skyey sheets, 
380 With Crispin as the tiptoe cozener? 
381 No, no: veracious page on page, exact. 

V 

A Nice Shady Home 

382 Crispin as hermit, pure and capable, 
383 Dwelt in the land. Perhaps if discontent 
384 Had kept him still the pricking realist, 
385 Choosing his element from droll confect 
386 Of was and is and shall or ought to be, 
387 Beyond Bordeaux, beyond Havana, far 
388 Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come 
389 To colonize his polar planterdom 
390 And jig his chits upon a cloudy knee. 
391 But his emprize to that idea soon sped. 
392 Crispin dwelt in the land and dwelling there 
393 Slid from his continent by slow recess 
394 To things within his actual eye, alert 
395 To the difficulty of rebellious thought 
396 When the sky is blue. The blue infected will. 
397 It may be that the yarrow in his fields 
398 Sealed pensive purple under its concern. 
399 But day by day, now this thing and now that 
400 Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned, 
401 Little by little, as if the suzerain soil 
402 Abashed him by carouse to humble yet 
403 Attach. It seemed haphazard denouement. 
404 He first, as realist, admitted that 
405 Whoever hunts a matinal continent 
406 May, after all, stop short before a plum 
407 And be content and still be realist. 
408 The words of things entangle and confuse. 
409 The plum survives its poems. It may hang 
410 In the sunshine placidly, colored by ground 
411 Obliquities of those who pass beneath, 
412 Harlequined and mazily dewed and mauved 
413 In bloom. Yet it survives in its own form, 
414 Beyond these changes, good, fat, guzzly fruit. 
415 So Crispin hasped on the surviving form, 
416 For him, of shall or ought to be in is. 

417 Was he to bray this in profoundest brass 
418 Arointing his dreams with fugal requiems? 
419 Was he to company vastest things defunct 
420 With a blubber of tom-toms harrowing the sky? 
421 Scrawl a tragedian's testament? Prolong 
422 His active force in an inactive dirge, 
423 Which, let the tall musicians call and call, 
424 Should merely call him dead? Pronounce amen 
425 Through choirs infolded to the outmost clouds? 
426 Because he built a cabin who once planned 
427 Loquacious columns by the ructive sea? 
428 Because he turned to salad-beds again? 
429 Jovial Crispin, in calamitous crape? 
430 Should he lay by the personal and make 
431 Of his own fate an instance of all fate? 
432 What is one man among so many men? 
433 What are so many men in such a world? 
434 Can one man think one thing and think it long? 
435 Can one man be one thing and be it long? 
436 The very man despising honest quilts 
437 Lies quilted to his poll in his despite. 
438 For realists, what is is what should be. 
439 And so it came, his cabin shuffled up, 
440 His trees were planted, his duenna brought 
441 Her prismy blonde and clapped her in his hands, 
442 The curtains flittered and the door was closed. 
443 Crispin, magister of a single room, 
444 Latched up the night. So deep a sound fell down 
445 It was as if the solitude concealed 
446 And covered him and his congenial sleep. 
447 So deep a sound fell down it grew to be 
448 A long soothsaying silence down and down. 
449 The crickets beat their tambours in the wind, 
450 Marching a motionless march, custodians. 

451 In the presto of the morning, Crispin trod, 
452 Each day, still curious, but in a round 
453 Less prickly and much more condign than that 
454 He once thought necessary. Like Candide, 
455 Yeoman and grub, but with a fig in sight, 
456 And cream for the fig and silver for the cream, 
457 A blonde to tip the silver and to taste 
458 The rapey gouts. Good star, how that to be 
459 Annealed them in their cabin ribaldries! 
460 Yet the quotidian saps philosophers 
461 And men like Crispin like them in intent, 
462 If not in will, to track the knaves of thought. 
463 But the quotidian composed as his, 
464 Of breakfast ribands, fruits laid in their leaves, 
465 The tomtit and the cassia and the rose, 
466 Although the rose was not the noble thorn 
467 Of crinoline spread, but of a pining sweet, 
468 Composed of evenings like cracked shutters flung 
469 Upon the rumpling bottomness, and nights 
470 In which those frail custodians watched, 
471 Indifferent to the tepid summer cold, 
472 While he poured out upon the lips of her 
473 That lay beside him, the quotidian 
474 Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner. 
475 For all it takes it gives a humped return 
476 Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed. 

VI 

And Daughters with Curls 

477 Portentous enunciation, syllable 
478 To blessed syllable affined, and sound 
479 Bubbling felicity in cantilene, 
480 Prolific and tormenting tenderness 
481 Of music, as it comes to unison, 
482 Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last 
483 Deduction. Thrum, with a proud douceur 
484 His grand pronunciamento and devise. 

485 The chits came for his jigging, bluet-eyed, 
486 Hands without touch yet touching poignantly, 
487 Leaving no room upon his cloudy knee, 
488 Prophetic joint, for its diviner young. 
489 The return to social nature, once begun, 
490 Anabasis or slump, ascent or chute, 
491 Involved him in midwifery so dense 
492 His cabin counted as phylactery, 
493 Then place of vexing palankeens, then haunt 
494 Of children nibbling at the sugared void, 
495 Infants yet eminently old, then dome 
496 And halidom for the unbraided femes, 
497 Green crammers of the green fruits of the world, 
498 Bidders and biders for its ecstasies, 
499 True daughters both of Crispin and his clay. 
500 All this with many mulctings of the man, 
501 Effective colonizer sharply stopped 
502 In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom. 
503 But that this bloom grown riper, showing nibs 
504 Of its eventual roundness, puerile tints 
505 Of spiced and weathery rouges, should complex 
506 The stopper to indulgent fatalist 
507 Was unforeseen. First Crispin smiled upon 
508 His goldenest demoiselle, inhabitant, 
509 She seemed, of a country of the capuchins, 
510 So delicately blushed, so humbly eyed, 
511 Attentive to a coronal of things 
512 Secret and singular. Second, upon 
513 A second similar counterpart, a maid 
514 Most sisterly to the first, not yet awake 
515 Excepting to the motherly footstep, but 
516 Marvelling sometimes at the shaken sleep. 
517 Then third, a thing still flaxen in the light, 
518 A creeper under jaunty leaves. And fourth, 
519 Mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified, 
520 All din and gobble, blasphemously pink. 
521 A few years more and the vermeil capuchin 
522 Gave to the cabin, lordlier than it was, 
523 The dulcet omen fit for such a house. 
524 The second sister dallying was shy 
525 To fetch the one full-pinioned one himself 
526 Out of her botches, hot embosomer. 
527 The third one gaping at the orioles 
528 Lettered herself demurely as became 
529 A pearly poetess, peaked for rhapsody. 
530 The fourth, pent now, a digit curious. 
531 Four daughters in a world too intricate 
532 In the beginning, four blithe instruments 
533 Of differing struts, four voices several 
534 In couch, four more person?, intimate 
535 As buffo, yet divers, four mirrors blue 
536 That should be silver, four accustomed seeds 
537 Hinting incredible hues, four self-same lights 
538 That spread chromatics in hilarious dark, 
539 Four questioners and four sure answerers. 

540 Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout. 
541 The world, a turnip once so readily plucked, 
542 Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out 
543 Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main, 
544 And sown again by the stiffest realist, 
545 Came reproduced in purple, family font, 
546 The same insoluble lump. The fatalist 
547 Stepped in and dropped the chuckling down his craw, 
548 Without grace or grumble. Score this anecdote 
549 Invented for its pith, not doctrinal 
550 In form though in design, as Crispin willed, 
551 Disguised pronunciamento, summary, 
552 Autumn's compendium, strident in itself 
553 But muted, mused, and perfectly revolved 
554 In those portentous accents, syllables, 
555 And sounds of music coming to accord 
556 Upon his law, like their inherent sphere, 
557 Seraphic proclamations of the pure 
558 Delivered with a deluging onwardness. 
559 Or if the music sticks, if the anecdote 
560 Is false, if Crispin is a profitless 
561 Philosopher, beginning with green brag, 
562 Concluding fadedly, if as a man 
563 Prone to distemper he abates in taste, 
564 Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure, 
565 Glozing his life with after-shining flicks, 
566 Illuminating, from a fancy gorged 
567 By apparition, plain and common things, 
568 Sequestering the fluster from the year, 
569 Making gulped potions from obstreperous drops, 
570 And so distorting, proving what he proves 
571 Is nothing, what can all this matter since 
572 The relation comes, benignly, to its end? 

573 So may the relation of each man be clipped.


by Wallace Stevens |

Gray Room (1917)

Although you sit in a room that is gray, 
Except for the silver 
Of the straw-paper, 
And pick 
At your pale white gown; 
Or lift one of the green beads 
Of your necklace, 
To let it fall; 
Or gaze at your green fan 
Printed with the red branches of a red willow; 
Or, with one finger, 
Move the leaf in the bowl-- 
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia 
Beside you... 
What is all this? 
I know how furiously your heart is beating. 


by Wallace Stevens |

Sunday Morning

1
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passion of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

2
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in the comforts of sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.

3
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

4
She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote as heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her rememberance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

5
She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

6
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receeding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

7
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

8
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsered, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Abiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.


by Wallace Stevens |

Domination of Black

At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the fallen leaves,
Repeating themselves,
Turned in the room,
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks
Came striding.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind.
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
Down to the ground.
I heard them cry -- the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twilight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails of the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?

Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.


by Wallace Stevens |

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 every where. 
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush, 
Like nothing else in Tennessee.


by Wallace Stevens |

The River of Rivers in Connecticut

There is a great river this side of Stygia
Before one comes to the first black cataracts
And trees that lack the intelligence of trees.

In that river, far this side of Stygia,
The mere flowing of the water is a gayety,
Flashing and flashing in the sun. On its banks,

No shadow walks. The river is fateful,
Like the last one. But there is no ferryman.
He could not bend against its propelling force.

It is not to be seen beneath the appearances
That tell of it. The steeple at Farmington
Stands glistening and Haddam shines and sways.

It is the third commonness with light and air,
A curriculum, a vigor, a local abstraction . . .
Call it, one more, a river, an unnamed flowing,

Space-filled, reflecting the seasons, the folk-lore
Of each of the senses; call it, again and again,
The river that flows nowhere, like a sea.


by Wallace Stevens |

The Idea of Order at Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.


by Wallace Stevens |

Of Modern Poetry

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what 
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet 
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage, 
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging 
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.


by Wallace Stevens |

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I 
Among twenty snowy mountains, 
The only moving thing 
Was the eye of the blackbird. 

II 
I was of three minds, 
Like a tree 
In which there are three blackbirds. 

III 
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. 
It was a small part of the pantomime. 

IV 
A man and a woman 
Are one. 
A man and a woman and a blackbird 
Are one. 

V 
I do not know which to prefer, 
The beauty of inflections 
Or the beauty of innuendoes, 
The blackbird whistling 
Or just after. 

VI 
Icicles filled the long window 
With barbaric glass. 
The shadow of the blackbird 
Crossed it, to and fro. 
The mood 
Traced in the shadow 
An indecipherable cause. 

VII 
O thin men of Haddam, 
Why do you imagine golden birds? 
Do you not see how the blackbird 
Walks around the feet 
Of the women about you? 

VIII 
I know noble accents 
And lucid, inescapable rhythms; 
But I know, too, 
That the blackbird is involved 
In what I know. 

IX 
When the blackbird flew out of sight, 
It marked the edge 
Of one of many circles. 

X 
At the sight of blackbirds 
Flying in a green light, 
Even the bawds of euphony 
Would cry out sharply. 

XI 
He rode over Connecticut 
In a glass coach. 
Once, a fear pierced him, 
In that he mistook 
The shadow of his equipage 
For blackbirds. 

XII 
The river is moving. 
The blackbird must be flying. 

XIII 
It was evening all afternoon. 
It was snowing 
And it was going to snow. 
The blackbird sat 
In the cedar-limbs. 


by Wallace Stevens |

The High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.