Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens

1954, American poet Wallace Stevens — Wallace Stevens: 1879-1955. American poet born in Reading, Pa. Won Pulitzer Prize for “Collected Poems” in 1954. Photograph. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens: Early Poems

A Breviloquent Rhapsody

Performed for Rhapsodize Audio by Winston Tharp

00:15 – Sunday Morning
04:49 – Peter Quince at the Clavier
07:24 – Domination of Black
08:48 – Indian River
09:20 – Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird 11:48 – Anecdote of the Jar
12:26 – Fabliau of Florida
12:57 – Infanta Marina
13:34 – The Snow Man
14:23 – Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
15:18 – Bantams in Pine Woods
16:05 – The Emperor of Ice-Cream
17:00 – To the One of Fictive Music

Total length: 19:07

Internet Archive Page for Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens

Catalog Entry Date: October 18, 2015

Texts (except 04):

Text (04):

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens: Early Poems 

Sunday Morning

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 passing of her dreaming feet Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

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, unsponsored, 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 Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

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 on heaven’s hill, that has endured As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, Or her desire for June and evening, tipped By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

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 fulfilment 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 bring sweet-smelling pears And plums in ponderous piles. The maidens taste And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

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 seraphim, 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.

Peter Quince at the Clavier

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds On my spirit make a music, too.
Music is feeling, then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,
Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk.
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna:
Of a green evening, clear and warm, She bathed in her still garden, while The red-eyed elders, watching, felt The basses of their beings throb
In witching chords, and their thin blood Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.

In the green water, clear and warm, Susanna lay,
She searched
The touch of springs,
And found
Concealed imaginings.
She sighed,
For so much melody.
Upon the bank, she stood
In the cool
Of spent emotions.
She felt, among the leaves,
The dew
Of old devotions.
She walked upon the grass,
Still quavering.
The winds were like her maids,
On timid feet,
Fetching her woven scarves,
Yet wavering.

A breath upon her hand Muted the night.
She turned —
A cymbal crashed.

And roaring horns.

Soon, with a noise like tambourines, Came her attendant Byzantines. They wondered why Susanna cried Against the elders by her side;
And as they whispered, the refrain Was like a willow swept by rain. Anon, their lamps’ uplifted flame Revealed Susanna and her shame. And then, the simpering Byzantines, Fled, with a noise like tambourines.

Beauty is momentary in the mind —
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.
The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting The cowl of Winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebration of a maiden’s choral.
Susanna’s music touched the bawdy strings Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death’s ironic scraping.
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,
And makes a constant sacrament of praise.

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.

Indian River

The trade-wind jingles the rings in the nets around the racks by the docks on Indian River.
It is the same jingle of the water among roots under the banks of the palmettoes.

It is the same jingle of the red-bird breasting the orange-trees out of the cedars.
Yet there is no spring in Florida, neither in boskage perdu, nor

on the nunnery beaches.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

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

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

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

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

I do not know which to prefer– The beauty of inflexions
Or the beauty of innuendos, The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

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

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?

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

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

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

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

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

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

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

Fabliau of Florida

Barque of phosphor On the palmy beach,

Move outward into heaven, Into the alabasters
And night blues.

Foam and cloud are one. Sultry moon-monsters
Are dissolving.

Fill your black hull
With white moonlight. There will never be an end To this droning of the surf.

Infanta Marina

Her terrace was the sand
And the palms and the twilight.

She made of the motions of her wrist The grandiose gestures
Of her thought.

The rumpling of the plumes
Of this creature of the evening Came to be sleights of sails Over the sea.

And thus she roamed
In the roamings of her fan,

Partaking of the sea,
And of the evening,
As they flowed around
And uttered their subsiding sound.

The Snow Man
Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol. 19, No. 1

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind, In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in purple I descended The western day through what you called The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears? What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard. I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Bantams in Pine-Woods

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal. Your world is you. I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat! Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs, And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be the finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet On which she embroidered fantails once

And spread it so as to cover her face. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

To the One of Fictive Music

Sister and mother and diviner love,
And of the sisterhood of the living dead
Most near, most clear, and of the clearest bloom, And of the fragrant mothers the most dear
And queen, and of diviner love the day
And flame and summer and sweet fire, no thread Of cloudy silver sprinkles in your gown
Its venom of renown, and on your head
No crown is simpler than the simple hair.

Now, of the music summoned by the birth That separates us from the wind and sea, Yet leaves them in us until earth becomes, By being so much of the things we are, Gross effigy and simulacrum, none

Gives motion to perfection more serene Than yours, out of our imperfections wrought, Most rare, or ever of more kindred air
In the laborious weaving that you wear.

For so retentive of themselves are men
That music is intensest which proclaims
The near, the clear, and vaunts the clearest bloom, And of all vigils musing the obscure
That apprehends the most which sees and names, As in your name, an image that is sure,
Among the arrant spices of the sun,
O bough and bush and scented vine, in whom
We give ourselves our likest issuance.

Yet not too like, yet not so like to be
Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow
Our feigning with the strange unlike, whence springs The difference that heavenly pity brings.
For this, musician, in your girdle fixed

Bear other perfumes. On your pale head wear A band entwining, set with fatal stones.
Unreal, give back to us what once you gave: The imagination that we spurned and crave.


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