Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wallace Steven: never "true to life"

Language and Poetry Norman D. Livergood
A transformative poem such as Wallace Steven's Analysis of a Theme, is only actualized and consummated by its being appreciated, understood, and enjoyed by a discerning reader. A reader who merely passes over the words of a transformative poem by Stevens, without genuine comprehension, leaves the poem in an unfinished state in regards to his own experience. If the reader, out of egotism or scholastic puffery, injects spurious, extraneous meanings into the poem, he creates a perversion of his own design totally unrelated to the real poem which Stevens created. The essential poem, containing multiple meanings, cascading associations, and profound metaphysical dimensions, is available to the appreciative, discerning reader who has prepared himself to discover what Stevens deposited in his artistic creation.
From Wallace Stevens' perspective, "poetry has to do with reality in its most individual aspect." Only poetry deals with the singular element of reality, "science does not cover 'particularity here and now.'" Stevens claims that "there is in reality, whether we think of it as animate or inanimate, human or sub-human, an aspect of individuality at which many forms of rational explanation stop short." Humans, he claims, dismiss "individual and particular facts of experience as of no importance in themselves."
"The aim of our lives," Stevens claims, "should be to draw ourselves away as much as possible from the insubstantial fluctuating facts of the world about us and establish some communion with the objects which are apprehended by thought and not sense." Stevens believes that "Plato would describe himself as a realist in the sense that it is by breaking away from the world of facts that we make contact with reality." What we're after is "contact with reality as it impinges on us from the outside, the sense that we can touch and feel a solid reality which does not wholly dissolve itself into the conception of our own minds."
"The wonder and mystery of art," Stevens believes, "is the revelation of something 'wholly other' by which the inexpressible loneliness of thinking is broken and enriched." He claims that there is a "unity rooted in the individuality of objects," and that this individuality is "discovered in a different way from the apprehension of rational connections."
The genuine artist, Stevens claimed, is never "true to life." "He sees what is real, but not as we are normally aware of it." "The poet sees with a poignancy and penetration that is altogether unique." "Meaning is an awareness and a communication. But it is no ordinary awareness, no ordinary communication." In genuine poetry, Stevens believed, there is an "authentic note; it is the insistence on a reality that forces itself upon our consciousness and refuses to be managed and mastered." The poet mediates for us a reality not of ourselves. The supreme virtue of a poet "is humility, for the humble are they that move about the world with the love of the real in their hearts."
Stevens believed that for a genuine poet, "the faithful poem is an act of conscience." "What a modern poet desires, above everything else, is to be nothing more than a poet of the present time." The genuine poet attempts "to find, by means of his own thought and feeling, what seems to him to be the poetry of his time as distinguished from the poetry of . . . any other time, and to state it in a manner that effectively discloses it to his readers." Wallace Stevens' Poems
"So poetry arrives at the indication of infinite meanings beyond the finite intellectual meaning the word carries. It expresses not only the life-soul of man as did the primitive word, not only the ideas of his intelligence for which speech now usually serves, but the experience, the vision, the ideas, as we may say, of the higher and wider soul in him. Making them real to our life-soul as well as present to our intellect, it opens to us by the word the doors of the Spirit." Sri Aurobindo, "The Essence of Poetry"


  1. Would you be so kind: I've been trying to track down the source of this quotation for days: "authentic note; it is the insistence on a reality that forces itself upon our consciousness and refuses to be managed and mastered." Could you give me the Stevens source and page number from which you found it? Thanks so much, Professor White

  2. [Beyond belief: essays on religion in a post-traditional world - Google Books Result ... Robert Neelly Bellah - 1991 – There is one most welcome and authentic note; it is the insistence on a reality that forces itself upon our consciousness and refuses to be managed and ... Note 3. Opus posthumous (1957) p. 238]