Poetry Friday: Biting off more than I can chew
with a little Wallace Stevens

h1 September 28th, 2007 by eisha

apple.jpgI love Wallace Stevens, but in a complicated way. I love his imagery, and his intellect, and the way he leaps from thought to thought so effortlessly, like a stone skipping across water.

But I’m not going to pretend that I always understand him.

Reading a Wallace Stevens poem is work, and sometimes it’s frustrating work. But when I’ve read one of his verses for the, oh, seventh or eighth time, and the little threads linking one concept to the next start to show through, weaving the images together into a meaning I can maybe sort of grasp – it is so worth it.

Here’s a stanza from “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” that I like both on its own, and as part of the entire poem:

This luscious and impeccable fruit of life
Falls, it appears, of its own weight to earth.
When you were Eve, its acrid juice was sweet,
Untasted, in its heavenly, orchard air.
An apple serves as well as any skull
To be the book in which to read a round,
And is as excellent, in that it is composed
Of what, like skulls, comes rotting back to ground.
But it excels in this, that as the fruit
Of love, it is a book too mad to read
Before one merely reads to pass the time.

I do love that last line. For even more of Wallace Stevens’s delicious imagery, read the rest of the poem here.

I think it’s about love, sex, and mortality. I could be wrong, though. It’s complicated. What do you think?

*note – Gina at AmoXcalli is hosting the Poetry Friday round-up. Go see her pretty pretty blog.*

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16 comments to “Poetry Friday: Biting off more than I can chew
with a little Wallace Stevens”

  1. I love Wallace Stevens, too. There’s a logic of beauty in his poems, as if he’s reasoning by a different set of rules. His poems are so structured, controlled, and yet wild, wild inside.


  2. I believe it’s about love, sex, mortality and faith.

    My read of it is that he’s speaking of the disconnect between love and sex; that they begin intertwined, but that love sometimes leaves, while sex remains.

    The references to uncrumpling the much-crumpled thing and to the distendend squash left after the bloom make me agree with those who read this poem as being about disappointment in love (leaving only an earthy reality), and yet it seems he still wants to believe in the possibility of love and higher-level interaction. Just my 2 cents. And boy, could I be wrong — Stevens has a complete mastery of language, and so very many wonderful turns of phrase, but at the end of the poem (or at the end of the days spent parsing his poems), it can be hard to know what to make of them.


  3. This poem twists itsself around in my head. I keep returning to “an apple serves as well as any skull…”


  4. as the fruit of love, it is a book too mad to read…

    don’t you LOVE that????


  5. Wow.

    And the very end of the poem is intense and beautiful, too:

    “Like a rose rabbi, later, I pursued,
    And still pursue, the origin and course
    Of love, but until now I never knew
    That fluttering things have so distinct a shade.”

    {And “I wish that I might be a thinking stone” brings to mind the heart-breaking plight of Sylvester. Wallace Stevens to William Steig? Yes, my mind goes there, and that picture book (and this poem) almost makes me cry every time}.


  6. This is one of those poems you need to roll around in for a bit to get it. When they’re this long, it’s something you have to come to and go away from and come back to again.

    The sea of spuming thought foists up again
    The radiant bubble that she was…

    This is a great one, and I do think it’s definitely about sex and love and having faith that love will stay if pursued, instead of the ephemeral ‘every hand could make us squeak’ sex.

    Have to love that line as well…


  7. Ooh, good thoughts, everybody. Sara, I love the way you put it – “logic of beauty” indeed. And Kelly and TadMack, thanks for catching the faith in love idea.


  8. Beautiful, luscious poem good enough to eat. thanks for the compliments on the blog. The round up is done !


  9. “Like a dull scholar, I behold, in love,
    An ancient aspect touching a new mind.
    It comes, it blooms, it bears its fruit and dies.
    This trivial trope reveals a way of truth.
    Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.”

    I think there is some wonderment of the results of a love or sex that doesn’t seem to last. That life goes beyond all else.


  10. I love this poetry-analysis-for-one-poem goin’ on here. I’m going to stop reviewing anthologies so often on Poetry Fridays and do this more often. It’s like being in a lit class — but in which everyone took it as an elective, not a required course.


  11. I’m working on interview questions for Naomi Shihab Nye, and I just read this from her, which is fitting for Eisha’s Poetry Friday entry:

    “Probably some of us were taught so long and hard that poetry was a thing to analyze that we lost our ability to find it delicious, to appreciate its taste, sometimes even when we couldn’t completely apprehend its meaning. I love to offer students a poem now and then that I don’t really understand. It presents them with the immediate opportunity of being smarter than I am. Believe me, they always take it. They always find an interesting way to look through its window. It presents us all with a renewed appetite for interpretation, one of the most vibrant and energetic parts of the poetry experience.”

    God, I love her.


  12. Oh, and here’s the link if anyone wants to read further: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring95/Nye.html


  13. I couldn’t find an appropriate spot to say what I needed to say, so I randomly picked one.

    This is the best site ever. I found it by Googling Haven Kimmel; it’s like a little piece of heaven on the internet. I love books and am always looking for recommendations. Thank you for existing.

    Also, I must plug “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” by Melissa Bank, because it’s right up there with “She’s Come Undone” as my all-time favorite piece of literary amazingness.


  14. Thanks, Denise! Woo hoo! We adore Haven and are about to co-review her new novel.

    Thanks for visiting. Your site looks great, too.


  15. Yeah, thanks, Denise, and welcome! I have read Girl’s Guide, and I liked it very much. But I wasn’t crazy about Banks’s second book, The Wonder Spot, because it was TOTALLY EXACTLY THE SAME BOOK ALL OVER AGAIN. Did you read it? Did it bug you too?


  16. It was the same story told differently; I kept wondering if this Sophie is the Sophie and went so far as to dig out “Girl’s Guide” and scan for any mention of Sophie I could find. When we last left her, though, she was getting married to a guy named Max. At the end of The Wonder Spot she’s canoodling Seth. Perhaps she meets Max later? The lack of Jane references causes me to believe that this is a completely different Sophie and maybe Banks needs to grow an imagination.

    I suppose the conclusion is in the hands of the reader. I enjoyed her first novel more than the second; the voice Bank gives Jane in “Girl’s Guide” is faintly heard in her second book, like an echo caught in the breeze. It would’ve been nice to hear a fresh take on new things rather than the same take on the same things.


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