Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


It must be abstract. It must change. It must give pleasure.
August 12, 2006 8:50 PM   Subscribe

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 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.
posted by anotherpanacea (35 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
A Wallace Stevens FPP ..... excellent. Thanks.
posted by blucevalo at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2006


Bizarre, I just picked up a Stevens anthology yesterday on an utter whim. Thanks for the thoughtful post, anotherpanacea.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:15 PM on August 12, 2006


Eh, I'm not really impressed with Mr. Stevens' poetry. I find a lot of it reminds me rather strongly of either a teenager who is trying too hard to sound clever, or of someone reading a poem at a coffee shop open mike who has thrown in a lot of nonsensical stuff to give the illusion of depth without actually having to have it. But then again, what do I know?
posted by internet!Hannah at 9:18 PM on August 12, 2006


from "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.

...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.
posted by ronv at 9:40 PM on August 12, 2006


But then again, what do I know?

you know what you like and what you don't like, which is good.

I love the rhythm and sounds of this poem. when I stop to parse the meaning of the words I just get confused. definitely looking forward to reading more, and more about Wallace Stevens. thanks for the post!
posted by carsonb at 9:49 PM on August 12, 2006


Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the black bird.

(from 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)
posted by exlotuseater at 9:53 PM on August 12, 2006


Funny, I was thinking about the poem in the FPP earlier this week. A philosophy teacher at college really liked it.
posted by clevershark at 10:03 PM on August 12, 2006


Wallace Stevens worked in the nation's filing cabinet (Hartford CT) as an Insurance Table-keeper. Stevens maintained and refined actuarial tables. That must get you thinking.
posted by longsleeves at 10:07 PM on August 12, 2006


Jeez, do I have to click all those links to figure out what you are talking about? I'm gonna go watch a youtube link.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:25 PM on August 12, 2006


I love Wallace Stevens. At first, it's hard to believe so much beautiful, bizarre, and discinctive poetry came from the mind of an actuary, but the more you read his works (and "The Idea of Order at Key West" is a fine, fine example), the more you realize that he brought the best of his actuarial talents to his poetry.

Even a simple poem like "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" is a wonderful mixture of staid order and vivid imagination, and a great commentary on how the quest for order and predictability is lousy and soul-robbing:

"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock"

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

Good stuff, and still timely. Very good FPP -- thanks, anotherpanacea.
posted by mosk at 10:45 PM on August 12, 2006


longsleeves: Growing up in CT, we referred to Hartford as: "The city that fear built."
posted by turducken at 11:17 PM on August 12, 2006


Weird. I just read Swimming to Cambodia the other day and Gray quotes and mentions Stevens a bunch and I was like, "I really should read some Stevens" and then bam it hits the front page of the blue. Kismet! Thanks, anotherpanacea.
posted by shoepal at 11:19 PM on August 12, 2006


"Wallace Stevens worked in the nation's filing cabinet (Hartford CT) as an Insurance Table-keeper. Stevens maintained and refined actuarial tables. That must get you thinking"

Hmmm... composer Charles Ives was an insurance man, too.

I am thinking.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:18 AM on August 13, 2006


It's perfectly possible to read Stevens and parse the words--it's not meaningless at all. You just have to put some time in. They're beautiful poems.
posted by josh at 4:57 AM on August 13, 2006


a poem should not mean but be


What fascinates me aside from the poetry is that in his letters, collected and published by his daughter Holly, Stevens was a
very unusual walker. He took long, very long walks, that went for many many miles. The Hartford walking tour (two miles to and from where he worked) is mild comnpared the the distances he would put in at times.

But for all the reality he sought, he converted to Catholicism shortly before his death.
posted by Postroad at 5:24 AM on August 13, 2006


Man, I love Stevens. "Sunday Morning" is one of the great American poems, and my reprint edition of his first book, Harmonium, is one of my treasured possessions. Thanks for the post.

Eh, I'm not really impressed with Mr. Stevens' poetry. ... But then again, what do I know?

Nothing, but don't let that stop you from dropping a pointless snark in somebody's thread. "Your favorite poet sucks!" Go read what stavros had to say about the faux-hip snarktacular everything-sucks ghetto that Metafilter has grown into, and repent.

posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on August 13, 2006


Just picked up [B]The Empire of Ice Cream[/B] by Jeff Ford.

I don't like poetry.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2006


You f-n rock! I love Wally. I have a book of his letters. I have a book of his poems.
The Snow Man

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 in 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.
I showed that to one of my friends and he has set it to music, though has not recorded it. all I have is his notation, and I cannot hear the sounds from reading them.

I lived just outside of Geneva for a month and The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play was one of the books whose weight I accepted carrying across the ocean. I still have the page ripped from a spiral notebook with the address in St. Genis=Pouilly in case the luggage got lost, and on the other side, excerpts I scribbled from the book with page numbers lest I forget them. It's a bookmark now.

p. 4 the leaves on the paths/Ran like rats

p. 17 Not all the knives of the lamp posts/Nor the chisels of the long streets

p. 22 It was evening all afternoon/It was snowing/and it was going to snow

just some. and I started to run out of room, and only wrote page numbers, then gave up.

The man with the blue guitar is one of the best poems of all time. Why is it that the google search turns up no page immediately with the entire poem, only excerpts?
I

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."
from vi
A tune beyond us as we are,
Yet nothing changed by the blue guitar;

Ourselves in the tune as if in space,
Yet nothing changed, except the place
man, he rocks.
posted by bleary at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2006


(when Wally was my favorite, the huge Abstractions blew my mind. when later, he falls from grace, it is the severely concrete and plain that take his place.)
posted by bleary at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2006


Wikkid.
posted by Mocata at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2006


Here is a link to the entire group of poems that he published as The Man with the Blue Guitar.

Sometimes, as in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, he seems to be so obviously a lawyer and actuary. I love those poems, but I worry that they appeal to the wrong, analytic part of me. "The Emperor of Ice Cream" grabs the part of me that loves joyful linguistic play, but even there it also worries at me, especially the image of the corpse and the "wenches" and the cryptic ontological "finale of seem[ing.]" I go fishing for meanings, but I'm generally disappointed:

Though Stevens spoke of its "deliberately commonplace costume" when he chose it as his favorite in 1933, he also said that it seemed to him to contain something of the "essential gaudiness" of poetry. These remarks seems contradictory until one remembers that Stevens, in keeping with a fundamental precept of pure poetry, typically inverted the usual hierarchy of subject and style. Since poetry is the true subject of a pure poem, the ostensible subject is, relatively speaking, mere "costume." Such costume is not dispensable, however. "Poetry is like anything else," Stevens told Latimer; "it cannot be made suddenly to drop all its rags and stand out naked, fully disclosed."

Maybe that's it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2006


A different FPP!
I like it
posted by growabrain at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2006


languagehat: "Nothing, but don't let that stop you from dropping a pointless snark in somebody's thread. "Your favorite poet sucks!" Go read what stavros had to say about the faux-hip snarktacular everything-sucks ghetto that Metafilter has grown into, and repent."

Yes, because giving my honest opinion (though I am apparently in the minority with my sentiments) on the subject of a thread is obviously snark. I clearly posted that statement purely for the sake of offending the delicate sensibilities of these people with so much better taste than me! I'm plainly trying to set myself up as a smarter-than-thou hipster! In fact, by expressing my personal distaste for a single artist, I have clearly indicated my disdain for every other conceivable subject! Why, this is an outrage!

There, was that the snark you wanted?

Look, I don't think this is a bad FPP. I'm a big fan of poetry, and it's always nice to see a literary artist get some attention on the blue. I just personally could never get into Mr. Stevens' art, and I said so, giving reasons for why I felt that way. I'm sorry that in doing so I managed to draw your ire, but I think you are completely out of line in your little call-out to me.

Don't like my opinion on the artist? Then say so. Disagree with my assessment of the poetry? Give me examples why I'm wrong. But don't accuse me of posting purely to crap in threads and write off a dissenting opinion as snark with a comment that is in itself more snark than substance!

And as for repenting? Maybe next time I'll be a little kinder in how I word my judgement of an FPP's subject, and perhaps qualify it a little better, but I still stand by what I said.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:00 PM on August 13, 2006


internet!Hannah, I had no qualms with your comment and didn't find it at all snarky. Honest, and blunt, but not snarky and definitely not in that "hipper than thou" way. Don't mind old LanguageHat, he gets all hot and bothered from time to time. He means well.
posted by shoepal at 10:06 PM on August 13, 2006


Wallace Stevens. It just gets better and better as the decades go by.

I used to just read "Sunday Morning," now I have to read it aloud. I go with it, somewhere only it goes. I recall sitting by many waters, just at sundown, lights appearing on the waves.

Palpable and mute\As a globed fruit.

Any kind of music we can't hear, it's a pity. And so there are many instruments, an infinite garden of voices to be heard. When you find the poem that reaches way down inside and reveals something to you that you never noticed -- and it's undeniably you -- maybe even levers a few tears from the corners -- won't leave you alone for days -- then you've met the goat-footed balloon man. Until that day you've been wandering in the dusty bleak.
posted by Twang at 1:59 AM on August 14, 2006


I just personally could never get into Mr. Stevens' art, and I said so

Yes, I understand that. What I don't understand is why people feel it necessary to point out that they don't like something somebody else is raving about. Political threads are one thing: obviously if you see people defending some policy you think is hurting the country, you're going to say so. But it seems like in every thread where somebody has posted what they consider a great piece of writing/music/art, somebody else feels compelled to say "Meh, I didn't think it was so hot." What do you accomplish other than pissing on someone's parade?

That said, I've probably done the same thing myself more than once, and I may have been too harsh. The main thing is:

Get off my damn lawn!
posted by languagehat at 6:17 AM on August 14, 2006


languagehat: "What do you accomplish other than pissing on someone's parade?"

Actually, I mainly commented because I went through and read all of the links in the FPP, and after spending half an hour trying to see if Stevens held more for me now that it did before, I just felt the need to say something. Unfortunately, it didn't happen to be gushing praise. Next time I will refrain, perhaps.
posted by internet!Hannah at 6:47 AM on August 14, 2006


Ah, well in that case I withdraw my return snark: I assumed you were just tossing off a random expression of your dislike. No need to refrain, but next time, if you want to head off return fire from grumpy old MeFites like me, you might preface it by saying "I went through and read all of the links in the FPP, and after spending half an hour trying to see if Stevens held more for me now that it did before..." If I'd known you'd gone to that degree of effort, I wouldn't have hauled out the shotgun.
posted by languagehat at 7:18 AM on August 14, 2006


Ah, well in that case I withdraw my return snark: I assumed you were just tossing off a random expression of your dislike. No need to refrain, but next time, if you want to head off return fire from grumpy old MeFites like me, you might preface it by saying "I went through and read all of the links in the FPP, and after spending half an hour trying to see if Stevens held more for me now that it did before..." If I'd known you'd gone to that degree of effort, I wouldn't have hauled out the shotgun.
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on August 14, 2006


How'd that happen?
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on August 14, 2006


I've pondered the meaning of "let be be finale of seem" since I first read "Emperor of Ice Cream" years ago. Anyone care to weigh in?
posted by Beefheart at 9:13 AM on August 14, 2006


"Let be be finale of seem"? Let reality be the final product of illusion.

It's easier to understand any Stevens poem if you consider it in terms of reality versus imagination.

And remember Stevens had a tremendous--and tremendously dry--sense of humor.

Stevens was not an actuary, he was a lawyer in the surety claims bond area.

Benjamin Whorf (linguist) was also working at the Hartford during the period Stevens was.

For some hilarious anecdotes about Stevens, see _Parts of a World_. His letters are also good--pb is now remaindered. Helen Vendler has written two short books about Stevens--so good they are all you need to read to really understand Stevens.
posted by supremefiction at 11:50 AM on August 14, 2006


Let reality be the final product of illusion.

Is that Vendler's view? As in, 'quit faking it'? Seen another way, it's almost uplifting, an obtuse appeal to seize the day - BE! (In the middle of a poem about death, and one that starts out with exuberant language at that - dry sense of humor?) Or, with the images of the wake, maybe it's an appeal to keep up appearances, as in "seem to be" - finale of seem...?
posted by Beefheart at 2:17 PM on August 14, 2006


Of Mere Being is one of the greatest poems ever written.

First or ten-thousandth time you read it, it still makes you shiver.
posted by vronsky at 3:49 PM on August 14, 2006


MEN MADE OUT OF WORDS

What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?

Castratos of moon-mash -- Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human

Revery is a solitude in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

--Wallace Stevens, "Men Made Out of Words"
posted by supremefiction at 7:11 AM on August 15, 2006


« Older Homophobia, bad 'fan' art and childish humor aboun...  |  Are smart people grumpier?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments