Monday, January 09, 2012

Stevens - So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch

I’m back now from a delay I should have expected, but didn’t, and now I’m wireless to boot.  So, in that spirit, I’m posting one of my favorite poems from Stevens.  I hope it fares better than did poor old Lowell.  And, at no extra charge, himself reading it, though I’ve never really cared all that much for his reading voice. 

So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch
Wallace Stevens

On her side, reclining on her elbow.
This mechanism, this apparition,
Suppose we call it Projection A.

She floats in air at the level of
The eye, completely anonymous,
Born, as she was, at twenty-one,

Without lineage or language, only
The curving of her hip, as motionless gesture,
Eyes dripping blue, so much to learn.

If just above her head there hung,
Suspended in air, the slightest crown
Of Gothic prong and practick bright,

The suspension, as in solid space,
The suspending hand withdrawn, would be
An invisible gesture. Let this be called

Projection B. To get at the thing
Without gestures is to get at it as
Idea. She floats in the contention, the flux

Between the thing as idea and
The idea as thing. She is half who made her.
This is the final Projection C.

The arrangement contains the desire of
The artist. But one confides in what has no
Concealed creator. One walks easily

The unpainted shore, accepts the world
As anything but sculpture. Good-bye
Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.


At 1/09/2012 10:05 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

Oh, Wally, you have created the whole world with your words, then demolished it with your voice.


At 1/10/2012 6:16 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I can't hear the recording. Does the audience laugh?

At 1/10/2012 8:45 AM, Blogger David said...

I happen to enjoy Stevens' reading voice. The meaning of his verse eludes me.

At 1/10/2012 11:18 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I think poetry is best from a person, not on a page, but Wallace Stevens, I don't know, I just don't like his voice. I remember a video from years ago where James Merrill read some of Stevens's poems which I liked much better, so now it's James Merrill I hear when I read Stevens. For me, it's better this way.

Merrill also said he went to Stevens's poetry the way some people go to the Bible. For me, that was a great way into poetry. I started thinking of Stevens more as parable than anecdote. I don't knwo if that helped me "understand" Stevens, but it certainly helped me articulate my enjoyment of his poetry.

At 1/10/2012 12:50 PM, Blogger David said...

Merrill has a wonderful reading voice:

The Black Swan

Poetry was my bible before I found religion. I still approach poetry as a spiritual exercise, even if the given poet who attracts me is a professed atheist, e.g., Stevens himself or Shelley.

At 1/10/2012 3:49 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

"I can't hear the recording. Does the audience laugh?"

They didn't in 1945 at Harvard's graduation address, where Stevens broke all the expectations regarding length, patriotism, jingoism, etc., and read the entirety of Description Without Place, using his standard reading voice, with which he emphasized every individual syllable, and also the spaces between them. This reading, which lasted (don't quote me on this) 96 hours or so, may actually be the precursor to the Occupy movement. Stevens finally found a legitimate use for his reading voice: as an instrument of political coercion, or psychological torture.

(On the page, at least, I love that poem)


At 1/10/2012 4:57 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Well, Paul, Stevens's delivery may be a little on the sepulchral side, but you can't expect him to chew up the scenery like Dylan Thomas. That wouldn't be appropriate for the tone of the poem.

At 1/10/2012 6:10 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

The reading that John linked isn't all that bad. I mostly notice the voice (does anyone hear shades of Major Winchester, from MASH?) But I have a cassette tape of his readings at home ... one after another after another. On these his pace is a bigger problem. It sounds like the tape machine's running at half speed.

At 1/11/2012 7:46 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Disgraced philosophy, weeping, fled
To William James’ whiskered head---
To Wittgenstein’s silent bed---
To the hills, to sleep at night with the dead---
Finding peace, at last, in Stevens poems unread.


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