Stevens “Auroras of Autumn”

Stevens’ “The Auroras of Autumn” is a rather short volume of poetry published in 1950. It, like the immediately preceding volumes, is dominated by long, meditative poems on the relationship of reality, imagination, and poetry. While I’m often struck by individual lines or even individual poems in these long poems, the poems as a whole simply do not resonate with me, probably because I still remain unconvinced by Stevens’ view of the relationship between reality and imagination.

Whether you agree with his overall point of view or not, Stevens’ poems often force you to consider your own view of reality.

BOUQUET OF ROSES IN SUNLIGHT

Say that it is a crude effect, black reds,
Pink yellows, orange whites, too much as they are
To be anything else in the sunlight of the room,

Too much as they are to be changed by metaphor,
Too actual, things that in being real
Make any imaginings of them lesser things.

And yet this effect is a consequence of the way
We feel and, therefore, is not real, except
In our sense of it, our sense of the fertilest red,

Of yellow as first color and of white,
In which the sense lies still, as a man lies,
Enormous, in a completing of his truth.

Our sense of these things changes and they change,
Not as in metaphor, but in our sense
Of them. So sense exceeds all metaphor.

It exceeds the heavy changes of the light.
It is like a flow of meanings with no speech
And of as many meanings as of men.

We are two that use these roses as we are,
In seeing them. This is what makes them seem
So far beyond the rhetorician's touch.

Stevens’ insistence on seeing the roses as they are, or at least as they are sensed, rather than as metaphors for “love,” etc. rings true. Not everything, even in a poem, is a metaphor for something else. When we look at a painting of roses, we are more apt to see them as “beautiful roses,” to perceive them through our senses, than we are to judge them as metaphors or symbols standing for some greater, though more abstract, “truth.” Perhaps the same should be true in poetry. Surprisingly, though, the main emphasis in the poem isn’t on the physical reality of the roses, but, rather, on how our “sense” of them changes: “Our sense of these things changes and they change,/ Not as in metaphor, but in our sense/ of them.” Thus, our senses, which seems virtually synonymous with “imagination,” take precedence over “rhetoric” and over reality itself.

This idea of the “sense of things” rather than the reality of things, is further developed in:

THIS SOLITUDE OF CATARACTS

He never felt twice the same about the flecked river,
Which kept flowing and never the same way twice, flowing

Through many places, as if it stood still in one,
Fixed like a lake on which the wild ducks fluttered,

Ruffling its common reflections, thought-like Monadnocks.
There seemed to be an apostrophe that was not spoken.

There was so much that was real that was not real at all.
He wanted to feel the same way over and over.

He wanted the river to go on flowing the same way,
To keep on flowing. He wanted to walk beside it,

Under the buttonwoods, beneath a moon nailed fast.
He wanted his heart to stop beating and his mind to rest

In a permanent realization, without any wild ducks
Or mountains that were not mountains, just to know how it would be,

Just to know how it would feel, released from destruction,
To be a bronze man breathing under archaic lapis,

Without the oscillations of planetary pass-pass,
Breathing his bronzen breath at the azury center of time.

As one who is particularly attracted to water, and to rafting rivers, this poem rings particularly true, though perhaps not in quite the same way that Stevens intended it to ring true. Despite his anti-Romantic stance, this poem certainly seems to me to have romantic overtones, with Stevens’ own twist, of course. Ironically, in light of our first poem, this river seems to be more metaphorical than sensual, a metaphor for a constantly changing awareness of our surroundings. It is this feeling of unending change that makes the cataracts so attractive. Of course, the man’s perception of the river is rather different from the true nature of the river, “There was so much that was real that was not real at all.”

Although it is this feeling of constant change that attracts the protagonist, he wants to feel this “same way over and over,” which, of course, is just the opposite of constant change. This constant flux makes the protagonist want “his heart to stop beating and his mind to rest/ In a permanent realization.” Because constant change also brings death, the ultimate change, people dream of being “a bronze man,” “released from destruction.”

2 thoughts on “Stevens “Auroras of Autumn”

  1. As someone who also has a fixation on water, that second poem is wonderful. But I didn’t see the romantic overtones, unless one sees relationships in the words as well as life.

  2. Oops, I’m using Romantic in the sense of nature-loving Wordsworth, Emerson, etc. not in the romantic, “I love you darling” sense, Shelley.

    Being the anti-sentimentalist that I am, I NEVER use the word romantic to suggest love, hearts, valentines, etc.

    I do, however, forget to let others know this occasionally.

What do you think?