The Plain Sense of Things

As fall rolls off the trees I’m looking more and more at the poems toward the end of Wallace Stevens’ life, and finding so much that is quiet and yet resisting bleakness. I’m finding something both resigned and hopeful, some feeling that somehow parallels to me the resignation of leaves and limbs to winter (yet knowing fully, somewhere in their cells, of the cyclical nature of the world; that they will come back in some way). In that mindset, during the paradoxical quietness and noise of Sandy, I thought I’d post a couple of Stevens’ late poems here, both of which were published as part of The Rock in 1954. (The title of this post, too, is from a poem in The Rock.)

Long and Sluggish Lines

It makes so little difference, at so much more
Than seventy, where one looks, one has been there before.

Wood-smoke rises through trees, is caught in an upper flow
Of air and whirled away. But it has been often so.

The trees have a look as if they bore sad names
And kept saying over and over one same, same thing,

In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, a contradiction,
Has enraged them and made them want to talk it down.

What opposite? Could it be that yellow patch, the side
Of a house, that makes one think the house is laughing;

Or these — escent — issant pre-personae: first fly,
A comic infanta among the tragic drapings,

Babyishness of forsythia, a snatch of belief,
The spook and makings of the nude magnolia?

. . . Wanderer, this is the pre-history of February.
The life of the poem in the mind has not yet begun.

You were not born yet when the trees were crystal
Nor are you now, in this wakefulness inside a sleep.

The Planet on the Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

(Source: Stevens, Wallace. “Long and Sluggish Lines”; “The Planet on the Table.” Collected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson. New York: The Library of America, 1997. 442-3; 450. Print.)