Tag Archives: wallace stevens

April 11, 2011 The Emperor of Ice Cream

Friend has dream about enormous bunny. I think of Wallace Stevens. I go on long run, thinking about “Rabbit as King of the Ghosts.” Well, I didn’t really think about Stevens ‘ poetry, but I did think back to sophomore year of high school, reading Wallace Stevens for the first time, and thinking, “Wait, you can do that?!” I loved it, but I thought it was nonsense. Then a few years later I learned that absurdity is not nonsense. I few years later yet I realized–just from repetition, more than anything else–how deeply humane Stevens’ best poems are. To me his reliance on metaphor so obscure it almost flies off the page gets at something that normally can’t be expressed with words. No, I do not know what that something is. But there he is, doing it with words.

Today was the first day when, upon leaving the office, I felt like stripping down to shorts and a t-shirt and diving into a river or throwing a frisbee. Last night the Red Sox won their first series of the nascent baseball season. This weekend I ate my first hot dog of 2011. For all these reasons, and many more, I dedicate the following poem to those in our audience who have tried their hand at making home-made ice cream. Aw hell, I’m in a more generous mood than that: I dedicate it as well to those among us who have tried their hand at eating home-made ice cream. -ed.
THE EMPEROR OF ICE CREAM
ALL 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.
– 1922
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Oct. 3, 2010: CONTRARY THEMES (II) (Wallace Stevens)

And how did you all celebrate Wallace Stevens’ birthday on Saturday? I usually spend it adjusting insurance claims, but yesterday I watched college football instead (rooting, of course, for Harvard, his alma mater). We just had a surprise treat of some Wallace Stevens thanks to Ellen’s reply, but I can’t resist reading a little more given the anniversary. By the way he was born in 1879 in Reading not Massachusetts, but Pennsylvania. I’ve always found it funny how he was a lawyer and insurance executive for his entire life, and yet an award-winning poet all along (well, he published his first collection at 43, so maybe not ALL along). Not just any poet, but one of the wackiest of the very wacky 20th century. And I never knew about how he reconciled those things until I cribbed this from the Writer’s Almanac website:

He claimed that “poetry and surety claims aren’t as unlikely a combination as they may seem. There’s nothing perfunctory about them for each case is different.” Each day, he walked the two miles between his office and home, where he lived with his wife and daughter. During these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. He would only let people walk with him if they didn’t talk.

It’s funny–his poems are pretty cerebral, and of course they never really make sense, at least on a first read, and yet when I go back to the ones I really love–The Rabbit as King of the Ghosts, the Snow Man, The Man with the Blue Guitar, 13 Ways…–I’m always reminded of how moving they are. There’s something grand in his poems, but it’s something sought, something reached for. I guess I find that irreducibly human. I had never really read or noticed this one before, but the observation applies equally.

I have nothing to say about the following except to remind us that an Alexandrine is a six-footed iambic line. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. -ed.

Contrary Theses (II)

One chemical afternoon in mid-autumn,

When the grand mechanics of earth and sky were near;

Even the leaves of the locust were yellow then,

He walked with his year-old boy on his shoulder.

The sun shone and the dog barked and the baby slept.

The leaves, even of the locust, the green locust.

He wanted and looked for a final refuge,

From the bombastic intimations of winter

And the martyrs a la mode. He walked toward

An abstract, of which the sun, the dog, the boy

Were contours. Cold was chilling the wide-moving swans.

The leaves were falling like notes from a piano.

The abstract was suddenly there and gone again.

The negroes were playing football in the park.

The abstract that he saw, like the locust-leaves, plainly:

The premiss from which all things were conclusions,

The noble, Alexandrine verve. The flies

And the bees still sought the chrysanthemums’ odor.

May 4, 2009 Loneliness in Jersey City

Folks,

and then on the drive back to New Brunswick rail station from my friend’s house, Mike was telling me about his job and how he’d be spending some significant time in Hartford in the coming months. This naturally got me thinking about Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), since Wallace Stevens worked in Hartford nearly all his adult life and was, like Mike, an insurance man. Mike came to it via an English major and information systems management, Stevens via a Harvard degree and New York Law School. And Mike and I used to study modern poetry together as undergrads, so a piece from one of my very favorite writers (yes, dating right back to Mrs. Ney’s sophomore English class) seemed apropos for today.

Hartford’s in CT, but Jersey City’s in NJ. Here Wallace Stevens tries to take the measure of something. Look at the numbers. Look, too, at the rather strict rhymes he maintains, somewhat a rarity in his work. It’s measured, yet senseless. And at the same time, a little judgmental… Hm, no wonder I like this poem. Folks, where’s the loneliness? Have a good week. -ed.




LONELINESS IN JERSEY CITY


The deer and the dachshund are one.
Well, the gods grow out of the weather.
The people grow out of the weather;
The gods grow out of the people.
Encore, encore, encore les dieux…

The distance between the dark steeple
And cobble ten thousand and three
Is more than a seven-foot inchworm
Could measure by moonlight in June.

Kiss, cats: for the deer and the dachshund
Are one. My window is twenty-nine three
And plenty of window for me.
The steeples are empty and so are the people,
There’s nothing whatever to see
Except Polacks that pass in their motors
And play concertinas all night.
They think that things are all right,
Since the deer and the dachshund are one.

Monday’s Verse, Mar. 10, 2008

Dear Readers,

I’ve been a fan of Wallace Stevens since 1988. And I’ve been a law student for 18 months. But I did not know until this week-end that he was a lawyer. A lawyer! He got his degree from New York Law School in the early 20th Century, practiced corporate law in the city for a couple years, and, as we all know, eventually got into the insurance game, spending the bulk of his professional career as a vice president with the Hartford Company. Was he, then, a man disposed to know that we are not only conditioned and limited by words, but made out of words? But the statements in this poem go even further, delving into fate, fantasy, and the subconscious–the use of repetition nails down his various foci. One never really understands Stevens, I often conclude. But whatever would limit the forms and aims of art, that is what he fought against. -ed.




MEN MADE OUT OF WORDS

What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human reverie 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.