|Archives of The New York Times|
Sunday, January 8, 2006; Page BW12
By Robert Pinsky
When I come across a poem or movie that makes Mother Nature out to be merely sweet and benign in some sentimental humanized way, I think of Wallace Stevens's poem "Madame La Fleurie."
True love pays attention, and in his writing Stevens shows real, loving attention to nature. He recognized that the Earth is, indeed, our mother: We come from it. Earth is the lady of flowers, and we use it to describe ourselves and what we see, as though it were a looking-glass. But the Earth reflects our flowery sentiments or our stormy passions only in our imaginings: The flowers and the storms may supply part of the language of images that we use as a way of thinking, but that doesn't mean we understand them or know them. The flowers and the storms don't share our ways of being, nor do the birds.
The flowers and storms and birds all come to an end, as we do, but differently. Stevens concentrates on that difference in mortality. John Keats, a century before, had written in his "Ode to a Nightingale": "Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird;/No hungry generations tread thee down." The generations of nightingales, each bird singing the same way, don't eagerly replace one another with the individual hunger that Keats recognizes in human poets. Similarly, the generic, collective and plural "jay" in Stevens's poem do not remember the specific, individual blue jay of some particular time:
Madame la Fleurie
Weight him down, O side-stars, with the great weightings of the end.
Seal him there. He looked in a glass of the earth and thought he lived in it.
Now, he brings all that he saw into the earth, to the waiting parent.
His crisp knowledge is devoured by her, beneath a dew.
Weight him, weight, weight him with the sleepiness of the moon.
It was only a glass because he looked in it. It was nothing he could be told.
It was a language he spoke, because he must, yet did not know.
It was a page he had found in the handbook of heartbreak.
The black fugatos are strumming the blacknesses of black . . .
The thick strings stutter the finial gutturals.
He does not lie there remembering the blue-jay, say the jay.
His grief is that his mother should feed on him, himself and what he saw,
In that distant chamber, a bearded queen, wicked in her dead light.
The weirdness of that final image, its genuine but almost cartoon-like horror, has an exhilarating flamboyance. The "crisp knowledge" includes an awareness of our parent nature as life's great force of dissolution, as well as generation. This poem, with its grave yet jaunty manner, like a jazz funeral, pays Mother Earth the tribute of a fresh portrait. A wicked, bearded queen, in her dead light! The image is so startling it can make a reader laugh in recognition of its outrageous, irreverent justice. That response is like the audience's laugh of terror at a moment of shock in horror films, but with an added charge of reality.
In contrast to Stevens's ebullient toughness, attempts to sentimentalize the natural world as a good mommy, or a reflection of human life, or an allegory for ourselves are depressing because the thinking behind such efforts is slack and false. Stevens's poem, with its extravagant funereal strings, its verbal drums and trombones, cheers me up because its reckless energies all serve clarity of vision.
(Wallace Stevens's poem "Madame La Fleurie" can be found in "The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens." Knopf. Copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens.)
NOT IDEAS ABOUT THE THING BUT THE THING ITSELF
At the earliest ending of winter,
He knew that he heard it,
The sun was rising at six,
It was not from the vast
That scrawny cry--It was
Surrounded by its choral rings,
NÃO IDEIAS SOBRE A COISA, MAS A PRÓPRIA COISA
Logo ao findar do Inverno,
Em Março, um grito magro do exterior
Pareceu-lhe ser um som dentro da mente.
Ele sabia tê-lo ouvido,
Um grito de ave à luz do dia, ou antes,
Nos primeiros ventos de Março.
O sol nascia às seis,
Não já topete em ruínas sobre a neve…
Teria sido no exterior.
Não partiu do vasto ventriloquismo
Do desbotado papel pardo do sono…
O sol vinha do exterior.
Esse grito magro – era
Um corista cujo c precedia o coro.
Era parte do sol colossal,
Que os seus anéis corais cercavam,
Ainda longe. Era como
Um novo conhecimento da realidade.
OF MERE BEING
at the end of the mind,
then that it is not the reason
The palm stands on the edge
DO MERO SER
A palmeira, onde a mente acaba,
Para lá do último pensamento, ergue-se
Na distância de bronze,
Um pássaro de penas douradas
Canta na palmeira, sem sentido humano,
Sem sentir humano, uma canção estrangeira.
Então tu sabes que não é a razão
Que nos faz felizes ou infelizes.
O pássaro canta. As penas brilham.
A palmeira ergue-se à beira do espaço.
O vento move-se nos ramos lentamente.
Pendidas, oscilam as penas do pássaro ornadas de fogo.
On this poem, here
Traduções de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS
poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993.
To an Old Philosopher in Rome
threshold of heaven, the figures in the street
threshold, Rome, and that more merciful Rome
easily the blown banners change to wings...
human end in the spirit's greatest reach,
the books, the chair, the moving nuns,
confusion on bed and books, a portent
the symbol: the celestial possible.
we feel, in this illumined large,
dozing in the depths of wakefulness,
much misery; and yet finding it
the blood of an empire, it might be,
- it is you that speak it, without speech,
The sounds drift in. The buildings are remembered.
choruses and choirs of choruses,
It is a
kind of total grandeur at the end,
grandeur of a total edifice,
The Idea of Order at Key West
beyond the genius of the sea.
If it was
only the dark voice of the sea
Vacancy in the park
The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain
There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.
He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.
It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,
How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,
For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:
The exact rock where his inexactness
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,
Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.
You can hear the Poet reading the last 4 poems here
Wallace Stevens, Noted Poet, Dead
Hartford, August 2 -- Wallace Stevens, vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry this year, died in St. Francis Hospital today. He was 75 years old.
Mr. Stevens joined the local insurance company in 1916 as head of the Surety Claims Department. He was named a vice president in 1934. He also was a vice president of the Hartford Livestock Insurance Company.
A native of Reading, Pa., Mr. Stevens attended Harvard and received a law degree from New York Law School.
He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Elsie V. Kachel Stevens, and a daughter, Miss Holly B. Stevens, also of Hartford.
His Work Reviewed
Wallace Stevens was a weaver whose threads were words. He spun webs to trap his moods.
"Hence, unpleasant as it is to record such a conclusion, the very remarkable work of Wallace Stevens cannot endure," wrote Percy Hutchison, the late poetry editor of The New York Times.
Mr. Hutchison had just reviewed the new edition of the poet's "Harmonium." That was in 1931, eight years after the volume first appeared. The poetry editor described the poems as closest to pure poetry. He explained that such works depended for their effectiveness on the rhythms and tonal values of words used with only the remotest link to ideational content.
He remarked that the poems were "stunts" in which rhythms, vowels and consonants were substituted for musical notes. But this achievement is not poetry, Mr. Hutchison said before adding:
"From one end of the book to the other there is not an idea that can vitally affect the mind, there is not a word that can arouse emotion."
Yet Mr. Stevens would not compromise with the imagination that in his poems was reality.
He was 44 years old when "Harmonium," his first book, was published in 1923. It contained the four poems that appeared in a special 1914 wartime number of Poetry Magazine.
He had begun writing poems upon his graduation from New York Law School in 1904, when he took a job as a reporter on The New York Tribune before beginning his law practice.
In "The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens," which appeared in 1954 to mark his seventy-fifth birthday, came the realization that he had, in fact, twisted an idea or two into his poetic yarn without dulling the shimmer of the finished product. His earlier illusions were now positive beliefs expressed freely in verse.
When his poems sometimes seemed obscure, he explained: "The poem must resist the intelligence Almost successfully."
However, in his personal and business life there was a very clear discipline. "It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job," Mr. Stevens told a newspaper reporter five years ago in an interview.
He said that he composed his poems just about anywhere. Usually, he said on another occasion, he got most of his ideas when on a walk.
Defined Poet's Role
Mr. Stevens said that poetry was his way of making the world palatable. "It's the way of making one's experience, almost wholly inexplicable, acceptable," he said.
In recent years he felt a sense of imminent tragedy in the world, and to this situation a poet addresses himself, he said. "What he gets is not necessarily a solution but some defense against it," Mr. Stevens remarked.
In "The Necessary Angel," a book of his essays published in 1951, the poet said:
"My final point, then, is that imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos."
His volumes of poems include "Ideas of Order" and "Owl's Clover" in 1936, "The Man With the Blue Guitar" in 1937, "Parts of a World" in 1942, "The Auroras of Autumn" in 1950. He won a National Book Award in 1950 and again in 1954.
Columbia University gave him an honorary degree in 1952. Harvard University had conferred a similar honor on him the year before. And in 1949 he received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry from Yale University. He also received the 1951 Gold Medal of the Poetry Society of America.
August 23, 2009
By HELEN VENDLER
By Wallace Stevens
Edited by John N. Serio
327 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $30
The poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), a lawyer, wrote out his poems at night, often having composed them on his morning walk to work at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company (where he became a vice president). He had grown up the son of a lawyer, in Reading, Pa., and was under pressure from his father to study law; eventually he succumbed, and graduated from the New York Law School, but not until he had first studied as a special student at Harvard (his father would pay for only three years, the time equivalent of a law degree).
Against his father’s wishes, he married Elsie Kachel, a beautiful but poorly educated girl of a class lower than his own. Nobody from his family attended the wedding, and Stevens never again visited or spoke to his parents during his father’s lifetime. The unfortunate marriage eventually failed, and in a bitter way. Stevens’s only child, Holly, told me that her mother was mentally ill, that she was suspicious of neighbors, that she would not allow other children into the house to play, and that when Stevens was rehospitalized for 10 days before his death from cancer, his wife never once went to the hospital (although Holly was there every day). Holly scoffed at the tale of Stevens’s reputed baptism and “conversion” related many years later by the hospital chaplain; in her daily attendance, she saw no sign of it and heard nothing of it. (There is no written record of that “baptism,” although all Roman Catholic priests are required to record the baptisms they perform.)
Although Stevens was always correct in his behavior, never criticizing his wife to others, the profound sadness of his life — estranged from his parents, unhappy with his marriage — emerged in poems never collected, like “Red Loves Kit”:
her no, your no her yes . . .
Her words accuse you of adulteries
That sack the sun, though metaphysical.
True, you may love
And she have beauty of a kind, but such
Unhappy love reveals vast blemishes.
The only deficiency of the excellent new “Selected Poems” is that it must exclude — being drawn entirely from Stevens’s published volumes — such revealing material. It therefore gives the impression, as the volumes did, of an impersonal poet with no private griefs, a poet chiefly concerned with the relations between the imagined and the real. Stevens himself endorsed this (partial) description; it is not solely the creation of his readers. But it is a mistaken view. Because of his fierce reticence (rather like that of Emily Dickinson, whom he admired), Stevens wrote symbolic rather than transcriptive poetry. How differently might a reader take in “Burghers of Petty Death” if it had been called “A Son’s Lament for His Dead Parents,” or “The Snow Man” if it had been called “Stoicism in a Failed Marriage”? Like Dickinson, Stevens has won a wide audience in spite of the guard he put on his privacy, and we are now better acquainted with his sorrows.
In 1954, Stevens allowed Alfred Knopf to bring out his “Collected Poems” in celebration of his 75th birthday. Less than a year later, Stevens died, and although a few late poems appeared posthumously, it was by the “Collected Poems” that we knew him. The Library of America, in 1997, gave us all of his poetry and some of his prose, but we have long needed, and now possess, through the unerring taste of John N. Serio — editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal and “The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens” — a genuine “Selected Poems.” What has been omitted? The juvenilia, the unpublished poems of unhappy love, the less interesting verbal experiments and a few of the more difficult lyrics that might turn away beginners. Serio, with distinct courage, has chosen to include most of Stevens’s major sequences, declaring, by this act, that Stevens would not be Stevens without them.
Stevens said many beautiful and significant things about poetry in his prose. In his remarks, at 72, on receiving the Gold Medal from the Poetry Society of America, he spoke of the spirit of poetry as a companion of the conscience, and the poem as a faithful act of conscience: “Individual poets, whatever their imperfections may be, are driven all their lives by that inner companion of the conscience which is, after all, the genius of poetry in their hearts and minds. I speak of a companion of the conscience because to every faithful poet, the faithful poem is an act of conscience.”
This is an austere and ethical view of the spirit and act of poetry, one that early readers might not have expected from the author of the 1923 “Harmonium,” who amused himself with many comic poems, such as “Bantams in Pine-Woods” (in which a small American bantam rooster stands up to the intimidating, probably English, giant rooster ruling the terrain of poetry) or the “naïvely” rhymed “Anecdote of the Jar” (in which he pits a plain gray jar against the Tennessee wilderness, in ironic parallel to Keats’s urn in the museum). On the other hand, “Harmonium” contains one of the saddest of Stevens’s poems, “The Snow Man,” in which a man realizes that he must make something of a permanently wintry world of ice, snow, evergreens and wind, attempting to see “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the “plain sense of things” that he sometimes felt to be more American (and more faithful to reality). He would swear off one, then swear off the other, but each was a part of his sensibility. It became a matter of conscience to him to be European and American, to relish the sensual world and yet be true to its desolations.
Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future. Others treated those issues, but very few of them possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call “Stevensian” (as we would say “Keatsian” or “Yeatsian”). In the end, he arrived at a firm sense of a universe dignified by human endeavor but surrounded always — as in the magnificent sequence “The Auroras of Autumn” — by the “innocent” creations and destructions within the universe of which he is part.
John Serio’s winning introduction and informative chronology open up these poems, with their human eloquence, to a generation born a hundred years after Stevens. New readers will find that Stevens convinces by manner as well as conscience, by vivacity as well as fidelity, by tragic feeling as well as comic satire. Far more than Eliot or Pound, Stevens wished passionately to be above all a poet of 20th-century America and its American English; and he had the luck, as they did not, to write with increasing genius to the end of his life.
EXPRESSO – Actual n.º 1739 25 de Fevereiro de 2006
As coisas são como são
Poemas de Wallace Stevens, traduzidos em dois livros complementares
Texto de Helena Barbas
O Homem da Viola Azul
Relógio d’Água, 2005, notas e posfácio de Maria Adelaide Ramos, 106 pág. ISBN 972-708-855-4
Relógio d’Água, 2005, tradução e introdução de Maria Andresen de Sousa, 146 pág. ISBN 972-708-856-2
Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955) foi um poeta «mangas de alpaca».Trabalhou em firmas comerciais desde 1916, chegou a vice-presidente de uma companhia de seguros. Estudara em Harvard e formou-se em advocacia. Entendia que este seu trabalho era uma disciplina necessária: “Dá a um homem personalidade como poete ter 0 seu contacto diário com um emprego”, disse numa entrevista nos anos 50.
Ganhou o Pulitzer no ano em que morreu, um dos muitos prémios que foi acumulando: Booker, Bolingen.
O seu primeiro livro – Harmonium (1923) - foi mal recebido pela crítica. Percy Hutchison define os versos como «malabarismos» em que os «ritmos, vogais e consoantes tinham sido substituídos por notas musicais», um procedimento que considerou não ser poesia. E termina: »De uma ponta1a outra do livro, não existe uma única ideia que possa suscitar uma emoção». Enganou-se redondamente. Foi por este vínculo à música, e pelo pulular de ideias - de facto mais dirigidas à cabeça que ao coração - que a poesia de Stevens o instaura como uma das vozes americanas mais sumptuosas do século XX – entre um T. S. Eliot e um John Ashbery.
Lega-nos em parte a sua “arte poética”, em verso no extraordinário Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1942), já traduzido por Luisa Maria Queirós de Campos (A Ficção Suprema, Assírio & Alvim, 1995). Recupera aqui, com alguma ironia, a tradição das «cartas aos jovens poetas», e abre com o título “It must be abstract” -Tem que ser abstracta. Um “efebo” é aconselhado a captar a ideia “desta invenção / deste mundo inventado / a ideia inconcebível do sol”, a regressar à pureza original, a olhar o real com “olhos de ignorante” para poder ver claramente “a ideia”,, as coisas como são. Em The Necessary Angel, o seu livro de ensaios publicado em 1951, insiste: “Assim, a minha última tese é que a imaginação é o poder que nos permite descobrir o normal no anormal, o oposto do caos no caos, Wallace Stevens tem sido relativamente bem tratado em Portugal pela academia. Uma tese de mestrado de Graça Capinha (Coimbra 1986) e outra de Maria Elvira Marques da Silva Oliveira de Sousa (Porto, 1999). Vários artigos de Maria Irene Ramalho de Sousa (1976 –77).
Também vêm da academia as duas tradutoras dos dois livros agora publicados Maria Adelaide Ramos fez doutoramento sobre Philip Larkin, traduziu os Ensaios Escolhidos (Cotovia, 1992). Maria Andresen de Sousa Tavares dedicou a Stebens parte da sua tese de doutoramento (Lisboa, 1998, publicada em 2001 na Caminho) sendo ela própria autora do livro de poemas Lugares (Relógio de Água, 2001). Ambas enriquecem estes seus livros – bilingues – com ensaios dedicados a Stevens, onde nos esclarecem tanto sobre pormenores relativamente ao autor, quanto nos exibem as suas leituras particulares, os diferentes modos como o olhar de cada uma se debruça sobre os versos deste poeta da sua eleição.
Maria Adelaide Ramos traduziu um único poema longo - “The Man with the Blue Guitar” - de 1937. Em O Homem da Viola Azul reitera-se a aspiração a música e a pintura criticada na poesia de Stevens: «O homem curvou-se sobre a viola, / Uma espécie de alfaiate. O dia era verde.// Disseram: “Tens uma viola azul / Não tocas nela as coisas como são”// O homem replicou “as coisas como são / Mudam na viola azul” (pág. 11), uma aspiração ao teatro, à arte total, à filosofia: “Sobre as cordas quietas como setas, / o criador de uma coisa ainda por criar; // a cor como um pensamento que cresce / de um estado de espírito, o vestuário trágico // Do actor, metade gesto seu, metade/ Tirada sua, a roupagem do seu sentido, seda // Embebida nas suas melancólicas palavras, / O clima do seu palco, ele mesmo” (pág. 21). Maria Andresen de Sousa optou por organizar uma antologia, recolhendo poemas desde o livro inicial (Harmonium) até Opus Phostumous, de 1957. Do primeiro oferece-nos o esplendoroso “Domínio do Escuro”: “Pela janela / Vi como os planetas convergiam / Assim como as próprias folhas / Girando no vento./ Vi como a noite chegava, / Em grandes passadas, tal como a cor das pesadas cicutas./ Tive medo, / E lembrei-me do grito dos pavões” (pág. 29). O princípio de um percurso pela obra de Wallace Stevens, que decerto lhe conquistará novos adeptos.