15 July 2005

The Wallace Stevens Journal

Recently I purchased a CD that contains 25 years worth of The Wallace Stevens Journal, and I liked it so much, I subscribed to the journal and received their July special offer: the two-volume Special Conference Issue that records an April, 2004 conference called Celebrating Wallace Stevens: The Poet of Poets in Connecticut. Essays by many many people including Doty, Vendler, Longenbach, McClatchy, Voigt, Susan Howe.

Here is a scrap from the Mark Doty essay titled "A Postcard Concerning the Nature of the Imagination":

In 1919, Wallace Stevens mailed a postcard from Florida to Harriet Monroe, inscribed with a working draft of one of the most beautiful sentences of modernism. Here it is:

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides of green sides,

And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, come flinging
Fruit, forms, flowers, flakes and fountains.

By the time the poem appeared in Harmonium in 1923, Stevens had changed one line, the final one . . . Here is how the last two lines appear in the poem's final version:

So, in me, come flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.

Notice first what has fallen away; no more fruit, flowers, and fountains. What emerges from the speaker—not come forth, mind you, but come flinging—is inorganic. We remain in the same alliterative track, in the chain of f’s but the terms now are those of the forge and the furnace: forms, flames, flakes of flames. How far the poem has traveled, in the arc of its extended sentence, from lush organic life to the hammering labor of a foundry that might be the very one we meet in Yeats, where Grecian goldsmiths did their work "Of hammered gold and gold enameling," making their gilded, artificial singing bird. Later, Stevens may find reality and imagination at odds, but here they are beautifully reconciled, wedded within the elegantly wrought container of a single sentence, a construction with the heft of metal. The extraordinary arc of this sentence is from the natural world right out of nature, though this movement is impelled by nature itself; it is the world's resonant beauty that creates, triggers, or at least inflames the imagination, which has no choice but to make in response, to fling out forms.

I recommend The Wallace Stevens Journal.

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