Tag: wallace stevens

Unselfing, Marys and Marthas: Winter of Discontent, or Mind of Winter?


“One must have a mind of winter… And have been cold a long time… not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind,” the January wind. So says Wallace Stevens in his poem, The Snow Man. Misery and discontent aren’t identical, but a series of small miseries — unrelated to wintry weather — means February snuck up on me this year, almost as if January never happened, so misery must do for my “winter of discontent”. To “the listener, who listens in the snow,” hearing the sound of the wind, the poem promises if he becomes “nothing himself” he’ll “behold[] / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” People “cold a long time” can go numb, of course, and numbness is a kind of “nothing” obliterating misery. But numbness seems insufficient for a “mind of winter”.

For our own survival, we see winter’s cold as hostile. Our success as biological beings depends on our sensing discomfort, in order to mitigate risk before it’s too late. Concern for our own comfort is a form of self-regard that isn’t optional, if we care to live. Nonetheless, necessary self-regard is still self-regard. A mind of winter leaves self-regard behind. And so, it sees wintry beauty — the snowy, frozen world lit with “the distant glitter / Of the January sun” — simply because it is there to see, irrespective of what it might mean to the self. Winter in itself isn’t hostile, just indifferent: self-regard makes the indifference seem hostile. A mind of winter is “unselfed”.

ACF. Mod.Pod.7: Wallace Stevens, ‘Man Carrying Thing’


So here’s another podcast on modern poetry — @langevine and I talk about Wallace Stevens again — our fourth! This time, it’s his most emphatically educational poem. “Man Carrying Thing” starts with this unforgettable line: “The poem should resist the intellect almost successfully.” He moves on to then illustrate what he means, by showing that there’s something uncanny about being human, obvious only when we fail to recognize someone we see. Listen, comment, and share, friends!

Mod.pod.: Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


Today, Caitlin and I move to the poetic teaching of Wallace Stevens. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is one of the puzzling statements in modern American poetry. It reveals the need for a new poetry that can, by image and by reasoning, recall our basic experiences and articulate our humanity in terms of our perennial temptation to make metaphors. The good and bad news Stevens brings is this: our intellect works in the element of the imagination.

Mod.pod: Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West


The Modern Poetry Podcast is back. Our own @langevine, Caitlin, joins me to talk about The Idea of Order at Key West, the most beautiful of the poems of Wallace Stevens — American modernist, businessman, winner of the Pulitzer, and the most eminent figure to be pummeled savagely by Hemingway. Next week, we’re publishing our thoughts on 13 ways of looking at a blackbird. Please listen, share, comment, and rate/review us on iTunes.

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The first snow of November, as the light begins to fail. “One must have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; // And have been cold a long time…” If I told the tale of how I became so fond of this poem, […]

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Beautiful Dark Things – Desire from Nature


Earlier, @iwe wrote on desire and creativity as a holy act, on how humans are called, not to pagan imitation of nature, but to make things entirely new. And yet, for many of us, learning to imitate nature seems a necessary part of artistic discipline. Most conservatives are unlikely to be impressed, to put it mildly, by painters and sketchers without good observational-drawing skills. Music and literature, too, benefit from observant imitation of the natural world. Neither the sound of the sea nor the sight of the Milky Way could be imitated exactly in a song or poem, of course, but an artist may find that the only reason a work of his exists is because he attempted to record these natural features faithfully.

Matsuo Basho wrote a haiku sandwiching an island between the turbulent sea and the River of Heaven – the Milky Way. Music for that haiku might spring from hearing, over and over, the relentless beat of waves in your head, from the desire to imitate that sound, the desire to imitate, sonically, the frosty light of so many stars, to imitate nature’s creation of a beautiful dark thing:

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Happy 4th, folks–I’ve been saying this for a week, so it’s about time I stop, but just in case I missed anyone, there’s this last hurrah. It’s also about a week since I signed up for Group Writing, in the disappointed hope of cajoling a friend into writing about one of our favorite American authors, […]

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