American Literature 1900-1945

Survey Course Instructor: Mihai Mîndra

Lecture 12
Modernist Poetry Ezra Pound: “A Retrospect”, “In a Station of a Metro”, The Cantos (I) William Carlos Williams: “The Red Wheelbarrow”, Paterson Wallace Stevens:”Anecdote of the Jar”,”Study of Two Pears”

American Modernist Poetry – Summary
Ezra Pound Modernity T. S. Eliot, New Critics William Carlos Williams

Wallace Stevens

High Modernism Aestheticist rejection of modernity Classicism The Poet as part of the Elite  More or less overt support of fascist ideologies

Active engagement with both European high culture & American everydayness  Active engagement with modernity The poet as a seer / visionary Experimentalism Democracy

Ezra (Weston Loomis) Pound (1885 – 1972)

E. Pound, 1913

E. Pound, 1970s

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972)
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  

 

born in Hailey, Idaho, United States 1908: settles in London; meets William Butler Yeats (his secretary for a while), Ford Madox Ford and T. E. Hulme (Imagism), among many 1920: moved to Paris 1924: moved to Rapallo, Italy World War II: supported Mussolini’s government; publicly against the American involvement into the war; Axis propaganda speeches on Italian radio 1945: turns in to U.S. forces; to be stand charges of treason; kept in a cage for 25 days in Pisa  the Pisan Cantos Insanity plea: St. Elisabeth Hospital (1946 - 1958) 1949: Pisan Cantos won the first Bollingen Prize from the Library of Congress.

Imagism

Anglo-American movement developed in the preWorld War II years

Critical reaction against the poetry of the immediate past in England and America:
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As subjective, impressionistic As decadent Romanticism
Both typical of the Victorian era (Imagist opinion)

sources of inspiration were, chronologically, of two sorts:  Ancient: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese  Modern: French.

Imagism

Not all imagist poets were affected by the same literatures  each poet was the product of a particular combination of sources, and the chief source varied with the individual. Yet the platform on which the imagists eventually took their stand was a harmonious structure based on these principles:  Hardness of outline  Clarity of image  Brevity  Suggestiveness  Freedom from metrical laws.

Imagism

FRENCH ORIGIN SCHEMA:

Parnassianism (against Romanticism; for materialism; the Word not ideas) Symbolism (more spiritual) 1908: Thomas Ernest Hulme founded the Poets’ Club, and although none of the poets who became officially the imagists were members of this early group, it was at its meetings that the first experimental imagist poems were read and discussed, among these being Hulme’s own poems.

NATIVE ORIGINS

Imagism

 

Hulme wrote a great deal, but most of his writing was in the form of brief notes, intended solely for his own reference Died in 1917, in the First World War Herbert Read edited for publication the bulk of these notes   1924, Speculations (London: Kegan Paul; New York: Harcourt, Brace) another collection of brief fragments - arranged by the same editor, and published under the title "Notes on Language and Style", first as an article in the Criterion (Vol. III, No. XII, July 1925)

Imagism

main tendencies of Hulme's thought:  we have reached the end of a humanistic period (which began, of course, with the Renaissance); humanism is a disease, a weakness which carries within itself the seed of its own destruction  inevitable result of humanism is romanticism, and the exaltation of the individual  to the humanistic attitude he opposes the religious = "way of thinking," which may find expression in myth, but which at the same time is independent of myth; an attitude based upon a belief in absolute values, in the light of which "man himself is judged to be essentially limited and imperfect“  "A man is essentially bad, he can only accomplish anything of value by discipline -ethical and political. Order is thus not merely negative, but creative and liberating"  new classicism (as opposed to romanticism).

Imagism

imagination vs. fancy

Hulme limits imagination to the realm of the emotions, and fancy to the realm of finite things Fancy must be the "weapon" of the modern poet; it enables the poet to create the physical image = the very basis of poetic expression:

"Visual meanings can only be transferred by the new bowl of metaphor; prose is an old pot that lets them leak out. . . . . Fancy is not mere decoration added on to plain speech. Plain speech is essentially inaccurate. It is only by new metaphors, that is, by fancy, that it can be made precise."

Imagism

1909: Hulme made the acquaintance of F. S. Flint, who had been writing a series of articles in advocacy of vers libre  a new dining-and-talking society (unnamed), which thereafter held regular meetings on Thursday evenings at a restaurant in Soho (the Latin Quarter of London)

The Egoist, London May 1, 1915: F. S. Flint brief article entitled “The History of Imagism”:

Imagism

“I think that what brought the real nucleus of this group together was dissatisfaction with English poetry as it was then (and is still, alas!) being written. We proposed at various times to replace it by pure vers libre; by the Japanese tanka and haikai; we all wrote dozens of the latter as an amusement; by poems in a sacred Hebrew form ... by rhymeless poems like Hulme’s Autumn, and so on. In all this Hulme was ringleader. He insisted too on absolutely accurate presentation and no verbiage.... There was also a lot of talk and practice among us…of what we called the Image. We were very much influenced by modern French Symbolist poetry”.

Imagism
 

April 22, 1909: Ezra Pound joined the group the group died a lingering death at the end of its second winter 1912: E. Pound published at the end of his book, Ripostes, the complete poetical works of T. E. Hulme:  five poems, thirty-three lines  + a preface:

its discussions had a sequel:

"As for the future, Les Imagistes, the descendants of the forgotten school of 1909 (previously referred to as the School of Images) have that (Hulme’s poetry) in their keeping."

Imagism

same year: Pound had become interested in modern French poetry
 

had broken away from his old manner invented the term Imagisme to designate the aesthetics of Les Imagistes.

Imagism as a Movement:

British magazines:  English Review, 1909, editor Ford Madox Hueffer (editor Ford Madox Ford)  Poetry Review & Poetry and Drama (1912-1914; editor Harold Monro)  The Chapbook: A Monthly Miscellany (1919) & The Egoist. An Individualist Review (1914 – 1919), editors R. Aldington, H.D., T.S. Eliot

Imagism

Anthologies:  Des Imagistes: An Anthology. New York: Albert and Charles Boni; London: Poetry Bookshop, 1914
 

Editors not indicated no preface to explain the technique or to indicate the ideals of the poets.

Some Imagist Poets, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,
 

1915; 1916: preface, unsigned, written almost entirely by Amy Lowell 1917, editor: Amy Lowell; preface written, but unsigned, by Richard Aldington.

Imagism

= the official imagist credo; Pound was no longer a member of the group
Amy Lowell’s preface (1915)

six articles/poetic rules:

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Use the language of common speech, employing always the right word. Create new rhythms (free verse is recommended) to express the individuality of the poet. Have absolute freedom in the choice of the subject of the poem. Present “images”, and not vague generalities. Write hard and clear, not blurred and indefinite, poetry. Use concentrated poetic expression.

Imagism

the official imagists were: Richard Aldington (British), H. D. (American), John Gould Fletcher (American), F. S. Flint (British), D. H. Lawrence (British), and Amy Lowell (American) imagism as a movement ended with the publication of the fourth anthology in April 1917.

Imagism

American magazine: Poetry: A Magazine of Verse,1912 , 1913, editor Harriet Monroe

Vol. I, nr. 6, March 1913:

the principles of imagism: printed over the signature of F. S. Flint in what purported to be an interview with an imagist but which as a matter of fact was merely a statement by E. Pound in the same number, appeared "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste“, signed by Pound himself. in the "interview" the four cardinal principles of Imagism are set forth as:

Imagism
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Pound’s definition of the image (same issue):

"Direct treatment of the 'thing,' whether subjective or objective "To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. "As regards rhythm, to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." To conform to the "doctrine of the image" -which the author says has not been defined for publication, as it does not concern the public and would provoke useless discussion.
“that which represents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.

“In a Station of the Metro”
“ The apparition of these faces in the crowd Petals on a wet, black bough”.
 

What is “the thing” in this poem? Explain the “intellectual and emotional

complex in an instant of time” in relation to this poem.

Imagism

The origins of the name “image” and derivatives (summary):

E. Pound did not start the discussion of "the image“; it was T. E. Hulme. Pound was the first to employ the derivatives of this term in print: Pound introduced them:  to England in the preface to Hulme's poems  to America in the November 1912 issue of Poetry (Chicago), wherein appeared three poems by Richard Aldington, with a biographical note classifying him as an "imagiste."

Imagism

January 1913 issue of Poetry, Pound contributed some literary notes from London:

"The youngest school here that has the nerve to call itself a school is that of the Imagistes." same issue: three poems signed "H. D., Imagiste." Pound, acting as Poetry's London representative, obtained the poems from Aldington and H. D. and sent them to Chicago

Vorticism

1914 – Pound started finding Imagism too limiting  turned to Vorticism:  established by Wyndham Lewis (British painter, novelist, and journalist, 1882-1957) in 1914.  avant-garde movement in British art drawing on futurism, cubism, and expressionism  celebration of German aesthetics and the principles of energy, visual violence, and dynamism  represented by the journal Blast, edited by Lewis For Pound: energy and emotion expressed in “pure form”. The “image” was now defined as:  “a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce, call a vortex, from which and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing”.

The Cantos (1915 – 1970)
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116 poems Critical interpretation of the evolution and involution of European culture and history Included elements of autobiography coded in classical myth How the substantial, harmonious classical culture decayed / emptied into chaotic mechanical modernity.

The Cantos (1915 – 1970)

Pound modeled the Cantos on:  Homer ( The Iliad, The Odyssey)  Dante (The Divine Comedy). The composition was to be polyphonic (Gk. poluphōnia “multiplicity of sounds) rather than symphonic (Via Latin and Greek sumphōnia “harmony,” literally “sounding together), developing cyclically and spirally rather than in a straight narrative line. (see Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Marcel Duchamp’s Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase analogies)

The Cantos (1915 – 1970)

epic ambition -> inclusion of:
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History dramatized The documentary combined with the romantic The statistical info (Homer example) & heroworshipping (idem)

 The heroic man lives in and produces a just and/ or heroic epoch when man is in tune with a natural universe full of vital forces, intuited directly as factual experiences, but expressed as myths.

The Cantos (1915 – 1970)

Like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) the Cantos grew with Pound’s life and art experience  its provisional aspect:

suggested by titles of the Cantos series and their contents:  the first words of Canto I: “And then…”  the first volume of the Cantos was A Draft of …,  the last volume was Drafts and Fragments  the working title was Cantos of a Poem of some Length.

“Canto I” (1925)

Pound used a Latin version of Homer's Odyssey by Andreas Divus (dated 1538):

On the metre and syntax of a 1911 version of the AngloSaxon poem The Seafarer, Pound made an English version of Divus' rendering of the Nekuia episode (11th book of the Odyssey):

Odysseus - an heroic explorer cultivating the gods and acting significantly (great deeds) in search of knowledge
 

Odysseus and his companions sail to Hades in order to find out their future.

a metaphor of classicism as meaningful and balanced an allegory of Pound at the beginning of his poetical journey, a voyage of the artist’s self and a world history discovery to meet love (Aphrodite) and temptation (Circe) as forgetfulness / erotic sensuality

“Canto I” (1925)
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apparent senseless structure of the poem is the result in the belief in the authenticity of live art as life: a multifarious flux, an open form Journey to the underworld, seeking direction from the dead  symbolic intention > it goes back to the original ground of knowledge > a respectful enquiring relation with nature and with the human past, gained through submission (see his following the ritual [poetry, art] indicated by Circe) > we ascend to the source of Western literature and wisdom in order to get our bearings [Tiresias, Divus, Dartona Cretensis (‘the Cretan’)].   The Cantos as epic of knowledge. Suggested in lines 70-74: the Sirens, Circe, Aphrodite > sensory, carnal, visionary knowledge.

“Canto I” (1925)

Odysseus = first-person speaker of the Canto; Pound protagonist and author Pound, the poet, engaged in this journey to the past and back, to the present in order to create original and substantial art Odysseus sails on his appointed voyage past the Sirens to Circe’s enchantment (dangers of being swallowed by tradition), leading to a worshipful encounter with Aphrodite (aesthetic revival)

“Canto I” (1925)

first part of “Canto I“: on its symbolic level Pound´s answer to the raised question for the relationship between the present and the past  It is the past that influences and maybe determines the present and it is the past that shall be asked for knowledge to lead us  Elphenor here = our debt to the past  our responsibility to cherish and take care of that what is the past = our tradition rejection of modernity  The past and the present are not mutually exclusive;  The past as the motoric force of the present; if the present stands still it is because we’ve lost our sensitivity to the past and forgot its value and meaning.

“Canto I” (1925)

initiatory rites of Proserpina / Persephone:

daughter of Demeter and Zeus who was abducted by Hades, king of the underworld; she spent half the year in the underworld and half the year on earth with her mother; her return to earth symbolized the arrival of spring; the branch [golden bough] was held up to her as an offering such an offering symbolized the golden bough bearer’s understanding of her polarity (good and evil): to enter the darkness was to return to the light (a necessarily cyclic universe)  Necessary to regain cultural past: contribute to the present.

William Carlos Williams (18831963)

Graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School; studied pediatrics at the University of Leipzig in Germany By late 1912, Williams had returned to Rutherford & set up a private practice prolific writer, and for much of his life he published a book at least every two years friend with the avant-garde modern artists Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp found modern art very inspiring; involved in the 1913 "Armory Show"

William Carlos Williams, 1926

William Carlos Williams (18831963)

1950: public recognition of his writing  the National Book Award in poetry for the third volume of Paterson. 1953: won the Bollingen Prize (awarded by Yale University for achievement in American poetry, see E. Pound) in 1963 (after his death): won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Pictures from Brueghel.

Poetic Principles
 

use of simple, direct language avoided complexity and obscure symbolism: “All this—/ was for you, old woman./ I wanted to write a poem/ that you would understand.” (“January Morning”, 1938) Four poetic qualities:

the use of commonplace subjects and themes; the poet must write about things people can respond to, things people have seen and know’  literature should not stand separate from its readers

Poetic Principles

the poet’s duty to write about real events or objects in a language that all people could understand, with an ear for the way people actually speak
 

called his language "the American idiom" stressed repeatedly that it was different from formal English  it allowed for speech patterns that could violate grammatical rules Experimented with short poems that were fragments of speech on individual moments, thoughts, feelings, or images ["This Is Just To Say" (1934): “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were/ in the icebox...”]

Poetic Principles

specificity:

objected to traditional poetry that talked in generalities / “aboutness” (Williams’s term) e.g.: poems that treated love, death, anger, and friendship as abstractions rather than as real things/everydayness coined the phrase "No ideas but in things"  trend called OBJECTIVISM, in response to E. Pound’s Imagism:

Poetic Principles

the poet’s responsibility to write about his or her locale; poetry should be local  Williams assumed and actively engaged with modernity, did not reject it.

a prose passage from the volume Spring and All (1923):  “in great works of the imagination a creative force is shown at work making objects which alone complete science and allow intelligence to survive”  “works of art…must be real, not ‘realism’ but reality itself.”

Poetic Principles

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only by knowing a small fragment of life thoroughly could anyone hope to understand the total picture of human existence: e.g. Paterson: the town of Paterson, New Jersey  industrialized New Jersey; nature, represented in the poem by the Passaic River and its well-known falls, met with industry in the town of Paterson, where the falls provided waterpower to the area each object, each sensation, and each word has equal validity and equal reality, and each contains a storehouse of energy no abstractions or overt symbols no conventional poetic forms; the subject dictates the form  continually experimented with free verse. scarce literary / cultural allusions or quotations (e.g.Paterson)

William C. Williams & High Modernism

Pound:
   

Williams:
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highbrow aestheticist European modernism> Eurocentrism> focus on art as superior realm of truth > nostalgia for classical culture (Latin and Greek) in opposition to modernity perceived as capitalism (The Cantos). low brow, locally engaged modernism > interest in the local American language & culture (urban as little town America, his 1880s Rutherford, New Jersey: Paterson & In the American Grain)

William C. Williams & High Modernism

responds to Imagism maintaining a long transatlantic correspondence with Pound:

resisted Pound’s urgings to go to Europe; clung to his native industrial New Jersey
Eliot: a means to affirm standard hierarchies Williams: dehierarchization and relativism as he was a:

References to canonical writers:
 

post-romantic, an American, and a modern (Elizabeth Gregory, Quotation and Modern American Poetry: Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads, 1996)

William C. Williams & High Modernism

post-romantic: the romantic principle of originality includes an implicit hierarchy, by which those things not considered original are rated secondary
Williams: a relativist reworking of the romantic model, by denying the relevance of the hierarchies in which they might be ranked secondary modern and American:  both involve similar and implicit contradictions and hierarchies:

William C. Williams & High Modernism

Modern: suggests a welcome of the present and of the new=not just a break with outdated ways but a break with sustaining traditions as well American: the descendants of American immigrants have experienced double allegiances, to the Old World and to the New.

William C. Williams & High Modernism

T. S. Eliot responds to his haunting sense

of cultural secondariness by reaffirming hierarchy + denying his low position within it >
obscured his work's New World origins (particularly emphatically in the notes to The Waste Land)  Renounced his American citizenship William Carlos Williams:

attempted to exorcise his sense of cultural secondariness by denying the relevance of the hierarchies through which such rankings are made

William C. Williams & High Modernism

extends the critique of hierarchy to challenge the notion of hierarchy per se:
 

asserting instead a democratic value that obviates rank + working with a relativist scheme that reinterprets the secondary into value.  this kind of valuation does not rename the secondary as primary, since that would defeat the point: America cannot replace Europe; the European and the American are mutually informative, not so distinct as old/new parallels suggest.

while Williams does feature the American most prominently in his work, European influences past and current are honored as well (e.g. borrowings from the surrealists).

William C. Williams & High Modernism

Williams's work, like that of Eliot, exhibits the double allegiance of the American modernist poet toward:
 

In Williams’s case both sides flourish

the European literary past (and the hierarchies it represents) the American literary present.

Paterson: the poem's take on standard hierarchies fluctuates  apparent in its treatment of gender and of filiation:  both literal and metaphoric  a specific preoccupation with gender structures + wider interest in the reworking of all hierarchies.

William C. Williams & High Modernism

Paterson is Williams's response to T. S. Eliot’s and E. Pound’s poetry, and to the statement he understood their poets to have made in emigrating (place of residence and poetry being intimately connected in Williams's view):
 

E.g.: the acknowledgement of the feminine: in the letters from Cress, in Mme Curie, and in the quotation of Sappho

T. S. Eliot and E. Pound: retreat into the comforts of nostalgia Instead of trying to develop a new system of valuation to replace the hierarchic structure that rated American modernists secondary, Eliot and Pound attempted to deny their Americanness and to claim a secure position within the standard hierarchy.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923)
“so much depends upon a red wheel Barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens”

Example of objective imagism:

effort to devise a verbal representation of a thing in nature

Highlighted the sensuous values of the rain-glazed barrow and the chickens  NOT JUST A SCENE FROM NATURE.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923)

metrical composition of rigorously selected images in a symmetrical pattern:

sixteen words measured into four two line stanzas of three and one words each

“so much depends”: in Emerson’s terms he reflects that human civilization depends on the interrelated forces of the machine (the wheelbarrow lever), the natural force of fertility (rain), and animal life (the chicken: source of food and symbol of fertility).

“The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923)

Sensuous and aesthetic life is given to the traditional wooden barrow transformed by the red paint and the rain water glazing its surface  the poetic image as a

unique reality

Renewal of language by placing words and images in fresh contexts that would cleanse them of conventional symbolic associations to reveal new meanings and relationships.

Paterson (1946-1958)

Theme stated in the “Preface”:  “Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty when it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?” The five books of the poem: various ways by which man tries to unlock his mind to find beauty:  Book I: “The Delineaments of the Giants”  how the schemes and plots of the past have become dead history.  Book II: “Sunday in the Park”  how the present tires to find beauty in mere self-indulgence.  Book III: “The Library”  how the present seeks escape in history and philosophy.  Book IV: “The Run to the Sea”  how the present finds beauty in its posterity.  Book V: untitled and dedicated to Toulouse-Lautrec  only beauty that persists is art.

Paterson (1946-1958)
 

The poem proceeds from the trials that end in failure in the first three books to the trials that succeed in the last two. The first three books show the vitality of particular people and make the point that personal striving for only oneself ends in despair and failure The last two books show that the best personal vitality leads away from the person to the perpetuation of life and to art Not only does the entire poem flow from negative to positive, so do the rhythms of each book:  Each book has three sections, the first showing the striving, the second the failure, the third the continuation of life in resignation.

Paterson (1946-1958)

dominant symbol throughout the book:  Paterson, the single man who is all men, as a city contains many people yet has unity in being a place and in having a name (“only one man – like a city”). Other symbols:  the river , the stream of life  the falls on the river, the concentration of energies  the sea, the end of the river, death, dissolution into nature  the dogs are people in general  the library is the past, beautiful but of no real help to the present  the unicorn, both male and female, is the persistence of life  the unicorn tapestries in The Cloisters in New York City are the permanence of art.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1975)
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  

born in Reading, Pennsylvania spent most of his adult life working for an insurance company in Connecticut first book of poetry, Harmonium, was published in 1923 two more major books of poetry during the 1920s and 1930s three more in the 1940s received the National Book Award in 1951 and 1955 won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955.

Poetic Principles
 

Everydayness transformed by art into miracles / the miraculous In an age that had rejected religious belief poetry had to satisfy man’s need for spiritual sustenance:

 

The acts of poetic perception and creation = analogous to the religious experience searched for ways to celebrate the world releasing him from “the malady of the quotidian”.

“Poetry / Exceeding music must take the place / Of empty heaven and its hymns” (“The Man With the Blue Guitar”)

Poetic Principles

the poem: an unparaphrasable reality, existing wholly within its language and elevating poet and reader to a state of transcendence. “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” (1942):

the criteria for the formation of the “ultimate poem” / the “supreme fiction” that enables man to accept himself and his world on their own terms:

the supreme fiction: a poem which all men could behold, stripped of its antecedents (a new epiphany, nor God revealed, but man centered, and revealing man).

Wallace Stevens (1879-1975)

His aesthetics:
 

reality is a combination of the physical world and imagination the action of man’s imagination upon his surroundings constitutes his sense of the world and, finally the world itself. the poet is continuously engaged in the process of imposing order on his world by putting his perceptions into words; he has a “rage for order”:  “ Let’s see the very thing and nothing else / Let’s see it with the hottest fire of sight.” (“Credences of Summer”)

Wallace Stevens (1879-1975)

In an imperfect & changing world the order that the poet establishes through the poem is only a momentary, unstable order, with disintegration inherent to it. The poet, who is himself changing, can see an object one moment in one way and a moment later see it in another way (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”) the poem: not a revelation of truth, but one truth among many, revealed through the interaction of the seeing eye of the imagination and the images he perceives: “We live in a constellation / Of patches and of pitches, / Not in a single world.” (“July Mountain”)

Wallace Stevens (1879-1975)

The poet as mythmaker:

unites himself and the world, celebrates himself as indispensable part of the process his “fluent mundo” is a world only fully realized when it is imaginatively heightened by words THE POET: creative center of vision, transforming the ordinary world by his touch.

“Anecdote of the Jar” (1923)
“I placed a jar in Tennessee, And round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill. The wilderness rose up to it, And sprawled around; no longer wild. The jar was round upon the ground And tall and of a port in air. It took dominion everywhere. The jar was gray and bare. It did not give of bird or bush, Like nothing else in Tennessee.”

“Anecdote of the Jar” (1923)

The jar:  an efficient, useful industrial produce  no trace of nature or humanity  a visual blank surveillance point The possessive power of the eye the material turned into the poetical via artistic vision (Emerson’s poet healing “ophtalmia”: the “transparent eyeball”) Seclusion from the commercial materialistic energies of the age: The jar is artificial, but it gets poetical solidity as perceived by the poet’s eye in opposition to its environment.

“Study of Two Pears” (1942)
               

I Opusculum paedagogum. The pears are not viols, Nudes or bottles. They resemble nothing else. II They are yellow forms Composed of curves Bulging toward the base. They are touched red. III They are not flat surfaces Having curved outlines. They are round Tapering toward the top.

              

IV In the way they are modelled There are bits of blue. A hard dry leaf hangs From the stem. V The yellow glistens. It glistens with various yellows, Citrons, oranges and greens Flowering over the skin. VI The shadows of the pears Are blobs on the green cloth. The pears are not seen As the observer wills.

“Study of Two Pears” (1942)

an exercise in freeing the world of conventional meaning, reducing the pears to "blobs”:  begins by resisting the impulse to see the pears through analogy with familiar objects, which would domesticate them, rob them of their uniqueness: "The pears are not viols, / Nudes or bottles. / They resemble nothing else." the temptation to think of them in terms of paintings of pears is also resisted: "They are not flat surfaces / Having curved outlines“ the result is to convert them to form and color: "yellow forms / Composed of curves" . . . "touched red" . . . "round / Tapering toward the top.“

“Study of Two Pears” (1942)

The farther from the conventional descriptions of pears the poem retreats, the more unpearlike the objects become  They reveal uncharacteristic "bits of blue," and the pearyellow now "glistens with various yellows, / Citrons, oranges and greens.“  The final stage in this reduction is that of a formlessness in which the object loses its familiar look and resists the mind's attempt to dictate its appearance or meaning:

Properly obscure, the pears are now presumably ripe for the "early" or "first" seeing, a result not of the will or intelligence but of what Stevens (in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction“) calls "candid" seeing, an "ever-early candor" by which "Life's nonsense pierces us with strange relation."

“The shadows of the pears / Are blobs on the green cloth. / The pears are not seen / As the observer wills.”

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