Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stevens Revisited

Yesterday, I wrote about Wallace Stevens, based on "Breakpoint," a daily e-letter I subscribe to by Charles Colson. Colson said that Stevens, an important American poet of the mid-20th century, experienced a shift in his view of the world; he began to see that he had been wrong, all along, in his belief that reality is the product of the imagination. He gained a new understanding of the importance of relationships, and he saw that reality does exist outside the imagination.

Colson quotes from the poem "Not the Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself"; in this poem, Stevens paints a vivid image of his epiphany--his "new knowledge of reality." Stevens often used the concrete to explain the abstract. For example, in this poem, the "scrawny cry" of a bird on a cold, windy March morning breaks upon his consciousness. He suddenly understands that, of course, the cry of this bird is real. And his imagination has nothing to do with producing it; reality exists outside his mind. Eventually, Colson tells us, Stevens accepted the reality of God's love and was baptized into the Catholic church.

Not Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself
by Wallace Stevens (from

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,

No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism

Of sleep's faded papier-mache...
The sun was coming from the outside.

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.

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