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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Not Ideas About the Thing But Not Quite the Thing Itself




















Wallace Stevens lived an ‘aZuent’ kind of life, John Burnside tells us four lines into the introduction to his new selection of Wallace Stevens’ poems for Faber. The scanner is mightier than the brain, we tell ourselves, but there it is again at the end of ‘The Planet on the Table’: ‘Some aZuence, if only half-perceived...’ The scanner is mightier than the galley-proof too. But then we reach ‘Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself’, after whose sixth line (‘In the early March wind’) we read this:

With slight, prismatic reeks not recollected,
A bubble without a wall on which to hang.

The curtains, when pulled, might show another whole.
An azure outre-terre, oranged and rosed,
At the elbow of Copernicus, a sphere,
A universe without life’s limp and lack,
Philosophers’ end... What difference would it make,
So long as the mind, for once, fulfilled itself?

{Poem ends}

Poem does indeed end, the only problem being that the poem in question is ‘As at a Theatre’, depriving us of the final words of Stevens’ final poem in his final book:

That scrawny cry – it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

{Really does end}

Matthew Francis noticed something amiss with the new edition the other day on the Poets on Fire forum, to which I’d link except it seems to be down at the moment.

Simone Weil, Geoffrey Hill reminds us, suggested a system whereby ‘“anybody, no matter who, discovering an avoidable error in a printed text or radio broadcast, would be entitled to bring a special action before [special] courts empowered to condemn a convicted offender to prison or hard labour.

2 comments:

Ms Baroque said...

Oh, dear.

Anonymous said...

I am so grateful to you for this. I am new to Wallace Stevens. Having assumed the first time it occurred in the book it was a typo, I got quite concerned about my total ignorance when it appeared in the poem; hence Google and thence you!