Wallace Stevens

Last night it was Wallace Stevens' turn in the Leer la voz americana series. Paco Ruiz Noguera and colleague Jorge Sagastume were the presenters and both were fantastic. We had another good turnout and, again, the students read very nicely. Afterwards some of us went to La Reserva, new to me, and had a nice time talking over tapas. Stevens is the poet I've read least among those we've included in the series, but that will change. The more I read the grander his work becomes to me. At first reading he can seem difficult or somewhat hermetic, but to me his voice reveals a wonderful passion for life and a subtle sense of humor. His ability to communicate the idea that imagination is a force of almost sublime intelligence is striking. And how wonderfully he allows the reader vivid access to his imagination. Take, for example, "Man Carrying Thing", a poem, like so many by Stevens, that ends up being about itself. The visual image serves to illustrate a poetic truth, which in turn is exemplified in the poem as a whole. He could just as well have titled this poem "Almost successfully":

Man Carrying Thing

The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:

A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists

The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived

Of the obvious whole, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,

Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,

Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real.

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.

The use of "necessitous" is a stroke of genious. And what a sense of humor: ok, dawn brings us the "bright obvious", but he astutely declines to identify the "thing". The thing is nothing? It's still secondary, as is the man. No more resistance–intelligence... returns?