Stevens’ Ideas of Order


Although not necessarily typical or representative of the poems in "Ideas of Order," "Meditation Celestial and Terrestrial" and "Re-statement of Romance" are my favorite poems in this section of Collected Poetry and Prose. They are both fine examples of Stevens "elegant style," but unlike some of his poems they focus less on "art" then on other "truths."

"Meditation Celestial and Terrestrial" captures the dramatic effect the seasons can have on our attitudes:

MEDITATION CELESTIAL AND TERRESTRIAL

The wild warblers are warbling in the jungle
Of life and spring of the lustruous inundations,
Flood on flood, of our returning sun.

Day after day, throughout the winter,
We hardened ourselves to live by bluest reason
In a world of wind and frost,

And by will, unshaken and florid
In mornings of angular ice,
That passed beyond us trhough the narrow sky.

But what are radiant reason and radiant will
To warblings early in the hilarious trees
Of summer, the drunken mother?

Personally, I find it hard to resist phrases like "wild warblers are warbling," "lustruous inundations," and "radiant reasoning." More than that, though, the poem suggests the real reason that most of us are unable to live lives of "radiant reason." It is those moments of passion, those moments when we are under the influence of "the drunken mother," that we completely forget all the cold, hard logic that are the result of the tougher moments in life. You know, those "rational" moments when you declare, rightly so, that "I'll never fall in love again" or "I'll buy my next car more wisely," only to have your plans blown away by the next "love of your life" or by the reddest red Corvette you've ever driven.

"Re-statement of Romance" attempts to remove the "ideals" of sentimentalism from a relationship and focus, instead, on the feelings of the two people involved in the relationship:

RE-STATEMENT OF ROMANCE

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.
It is what it is as I am what I am:
And in perceiving this I best perceive myself

And you. Only we two may interchange
Each in the other what each has to give.
Only we two are one, not you and night,

Nor night and I, but you and I, alone,
So much alone, so deeply by ourselves,
So far beyond the casual solitudes,

That night is only the background of our selves,
Supremely true each to its separate self,
In the pale light that each upon the other throws.


It may just be my unsentimental viewpoint, but this seems to me like a great "love poem." Relationships based on sentimental ideas of "romance" are doomed to failure because any relationship must be based on what the people are, based on what the people are able to give to each other, not idealized notions of what love is. Only when lovers can be "true each to its separate self" can a relationship truly succeed, and to think otherwise is to invite personal disaster.

While this poem may not deal with Stevens' attempts to place "art" at the heart of mankind, it does deal with another of his major themes, the desire to debunk the "romantic" myths that surround us and to come to a "truer" understanding of human nature.

2 thoughts on “Stevens’ Ideas of Order

  1. It’s an exquisite and intricate creation–which could, I think, easily be thrice read at such a wedding ceremony w/o fear of overstaying its welcome.

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