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.