Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wallace Stevens, God and Metaphor

Anyway, here is Wallace Stevens on God and poetry. This directly relates to the matter of contemporary metaphor.

"The major poetic idea in the world is and always has been the idea of God. One of the visible movements of the modern imagination is the movement away from the idea of God. The poetry that created the idea of God will either adapt it to our different intelligence, or create a substitute for it, or make it unnecessary."

In the light of which, this poem by Stevens says it all and more.


  1. Good grief - I opened the link to the Final Soliloquy and (along with a load of dancing popup things telling me I'd won big money ) I got a picture of Tony Blair. This, surely, is carrying metaphor too far.

  2. I got a dating agency ...

    Is this candle the one throwing the shadows on the cave wall ???

  3. Sorry about the popups on that damn site. The light forms a room in the darkness. The two people in the poem are one, a unity. The imagination and the poet. So no, probably not Plato.

  4. Incidentally, David, if you go to www.wallacestevens.com, you can get a Wallace Stevens coffee mug. Heartily recommended. I have one, as does Nige.

  5. There is also (my own translation) from Purgatorio

    ... never mind the flames, they only serve to illuminate the greatness of the Lord. ...

    I have enough mugs.

    Surely the whole direction of Western art is away from the sacred to the profane, which I heartily applaud, until I step inside a cathedral or listen to Byrd or Tallis.

  6. Treading on sacred secular certainties won't make me popular but doesn't Wallace struggle with the idea that God and the imagination are one rather than commit wholeheartedly to the metaphor? That struggle is surely the only big position to take. He speaks of small reason....

  7. Yes, I think poem is very finely balanced. The 'small reason' is poignant - ie it's small but, on the other hand, it seems very big. And I am all for treading on secular certainties. There was a story that, on his deathbed, Wallace converted to Catholicism, hearing which, John Ashbery remarked that it only goes to show the lies that are necessary for the production of great poetry. I have no idea if the story is true.

  8. Bryan: you need to check this from Sunday Morning:

    Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
    What is divinity if it can come
    Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
    Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
    In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
    In any balm or beauty of the earth,
    Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
    Divinity must live within herself:
    Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
    Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
    Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
    Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
    All pleasures and all pains, remembering
    The bough of summer and the winter branch.
    These are the measure destined for her soul.

  9. Yes, Anon, I know it well. In the last two lines of that great poem there are the "ambiguous undulations" of the pigeons. It's that ambiguous that defines Stevens for me.