Happy Birthday Wallace Stevens!

Wallace Stevens, 1879-1955

Wallace Stevens, 1879-1955

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.

— Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was an enigma.  A Pulitzer Prize winning poet, he was also a conservative, Harvard-educated lawyer who worked, until his death in August of 1955, as an insurance company executive. This solid scion of business published his first collection of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of forty-four. His poems are dense, meditative and often full of quirky, obscure humor and playful language.

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 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.
    — Wallace Stevens

Metaphors of a Magnifico

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village.This is old song
That will not declare itself . . .Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a village.That will not declare itself
Yet is certain as meaning . . .The boots of the men clump
On the boards of the bridge.
The first white wall of the village
Rises through fruit-trees.
Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes.The first white wall of the village…
The fruit-trees…

       — Wallace Stevens

2 responses

  1. It’s always hard for me to explain why poems like this appeal to me. I strain to understand the meanings, yet the word play mesmerizes me!

    1. Kent, I know exactly what you mean!

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