23 February 2017

Poetry Thursday - Wallace Stevens, The Poem that took the Place of a Mountain

Wallace Stevens, "The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain"

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactness
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.


A fascinating review of a new biography of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) appeared in the New Yorker in May 2016:
Paul Mariani’s excellent new book, “The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens” (Simon & Schuster), is a thrilling story of a mind, which emerges from a dispiriting story of a man. It’s hard to think of a more vivid illustration of T. S. Eliot’s principle of the separation between “the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” For most of his life, Stevens was an elaborately defended introvert in a three-piece suit, working as a Hartford insurance executive. He came slowly to a mastery of language, form, and style that revealed a mind like a solar system, with abstract ideas orbiting a radiant lyricism. ... He is certainly the quintessential American poet of the twentieth century, a doubting idealist who invested slight subjects (the weather, often) with oracular gravitas, and grand ones (death, frequently) with capering humor.
And later, among the biographical details:
Stevens took to composing poems on slips of paper in the morning while walking to his office, where his secretary typed them up. The results made him a regular and imposing presence in literary journals, starting in the nineteen-thirties.

Eventually there is a sad end:
Stevens continued to go to work each day into his seventies, even after surgery for a stomach obstruction revealed a metastasizing cancer. He was too august at the firm to be let go, but he was never popular there. His boss remarked, “Unless they told me he had a heart attack, I never would have known he had a heart.”
Insurance man with honorary doctorates (via)

1 comment:

Janis Doucette said...

My favorite poet! Thanks for sharing this. I will get this book now that I know it exists!