Friday, August 31, 2007

A Favorite Poem

As I have written before, Wallace Stevens has been one of my favorite poets since my first encounters with poetry in high school. His mingling of emotion and intellect, his reticent intimacies, the verbal and mental poise of his poems against the pressures of the world both material and social, have always represented for me a model of what poetry could be and do, of what I aspired to in my own poetry. “The World as Meditation” is a beautiful musing on memory and desire and imagination and absence, on what the mind can make of what it is given and of what is withheld from it. With all the vicissitudes and distractions of my life, I hope that my dedication to what is essential, the barbarous strength within me, though it may have faltered at times, has never failed.


THE WORLD AS MEDITATION


J’ai passé trop de temps à travailler mon violon, à voyager. Mais l’exercice essential du compositeur—la meditation—rien ne l’a jamais suspendu en moi… Je vis un rêve permanent, qui ne s’arrête ni nuit ni jour.” (I have spent too much time practicing my violin, and traveling. But the essential exercise of the composer—meditation—has never stopped in me… I live in a permanent dream, which ceases neither night nor day.)—Georges Enesco


It is Ulysses that approaches from the east,
The interminable adventurer? The trees are mended.
That winter is washed away. Someone is moving

On the horizon and lifting himself up above it.
A form of fire approaches the cretonnes of Penelope,
Whose mere savage presence awakens the world in which she dwells.

She has composed, so long, a self with which to welcome him,
Companion to his self for her, which she imagined,
Two in a deep-founded sheltering, friend and dear friend.

The trees had been mended, as an essential exercise
In an inhuman meditation, larger than her own.
No winds like dogs watched over her at night.

She wanted nothing he could not bring her by coming alone.
She wanted no fetchings. His arms would be her necklace
And her belt, the final fortune of their desire.

But was it Ulysses? Or was it only the warmth of the sun
On her pillow? The thought kept beating in her like her heart.
The two kept beating together. It was only day.

It was Ulysses and it was not. Yet they had met,
Friend and dear friend and a planet's encouragement.
The barbarous strength within her would never fail.

She would talk a little to herself as she combed her hair,
Repeating his name with its patient syllables,
Never forgetting him that kept coming constantly so near.

15 comments:

Ulysses B. Waggles said...

I like this poem!

C. Dale said...

Reginald, Thanks for posting this. I love Stevens, and I have a penchant for this poem.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Reginald, your word "poise" is appropriate. Mental poise in the face of world worly pressures and the poise of the imagination in teh face of absence.

Alan Contreras said...

I had not seen this poem before, being woefully ignorant of Stevens. I need to take his works off the shelf and with me on vacation this month.

Reading this, I immediately thought of one of Joan Baez's finest songs (and finest poems, if you will), Sweet Sir Galahad, written about her sister's marriages. I have taken the liberty of including the lyrics below.

SWEET SIR GALAHAD
(Words and Music by Joan Baez)


Sweet Sir Galahad
came in through the window
in the night when
the moon was in the yard.
He took her hand in his
and shook the long hair
from his neck and he told her
she'd been working much too hard.
It was true that ever since the day
her crazy man had passed away
to the land of poet's pride,
she laughed and talked alot
with new people on the block
but always at evening time she cried.

And here's to the dawn of their days.

She moved her head
a little down on the bed
until it rested softly on his knee.
And there she dropped her smile
and there she sighed awhile,
and told him all the sadness
of those years that numbered three.
Well you know I think my fate's belated
because of all the hours I waited
for the day when I'd no longer cry.
I get myself to work by eight
but oh, was I born too late,
and do you think I'll fail
at every single thing I try?

And here's to the dawn of their days.

He just put his arm around her
and that's the way I found her
eight months later to the day.
The lines of a smile erased
the tear tracks upon her face,
a smile could linger, even stay.
Sweet Sir Galahad went down
with his gay bride of flowers,
the prince of the hours
of her lifetime.

And here's to the dawn
of their days,
of their days.


Alan Contreras
oregonreview.blogspot.com

Jen Bartman said...

Thanks for posting this poem. I have been trying to think of a pair of images (or even just a word or words, but not two abstractions) that express the idea of being simultaneously engaged and detached. I am trying to describe a self (selves?) that is in the world (sensing, communing, feeling) and apart from it (watching, interpreting, searching).

I am thinking about these ideas in an attempt to title a book. Some of the lines in this poem are helpful:

"On the horizon and lifting himself up above it. / A form of fire approaches the cretonnes of Penelope, / Whose mere savage presence awakens the world in which she dwells. // She has composed, so long, a self with which to welcome him, / Companion to his self for her, which she imagined, / Two in a deep-founded sheltering, friend and dear friend."

John Gallaher said...

If I were to have to make a list of favorite poems (thankfully I don't have to), I think Stevens would own about half of it.

Just to witness along with you for a moment.

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