Named Tomorrow


“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

On Stevens’ “Add This to Rhetoric”

After a little over-indulgence on my part in wide-ranging and free-flowing rants for the past couple of posts, I’ll stick to a specific subject this time. This is one of my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens that, if not one of his most polished or succesfully ‘artful,’ is still an unbelievably powerful example of the man’s skill and intellect.

Add This to Rhetoric

It is posed and it is posed.
But in nature it merely grows.
Stones pose in the falling night;
And beggars dropping to sleep,
They pose themselves and their rags.
Shucks . . . lavender moonlight falls.
The buildings pose in the sky
And, as you paint, the clouds,
Grisaille, impearled, profound,
Pftt . . . In the way you speak
You arrange, the thing is posed,
What in nature merely grows.

To-morrow when the sun,
For all your images,
Comes up as the sun, bull fire,
Your images will have left
No shadow of themselves.
The poses of speech, of paint,
Of music—Her body lies
Worn out, her arm falls down,
Her fingers touch the ground.
Above her, to the left,
A brush of white, the obscure,
The moon without a shape,
A fringed eye in a crypt.
The sense creates the pose.
In this it moves and speaks.
This is the figure and not
An evading metaphor.

Add this. It is to add.

Though Harold Bloom is probably correct on both points when he says that “Add This to Rhetoric” is “a kind of footnote to the greater poem, [‘The Poems of Our Climate’],” I still find it to be one of my favorite of Stevens’ poems. “The Poems of Our Climate” seems to belie the imperfection which it claim is “our paradise.” Admittedly, it does this beautifully; but that is part of why I prefer “Add This…,” which, instead, eschews beautiful, meditative images for simplistic ones that depict their subjects while demonstrating the poem’s premise, and which uses a grammar that demonstratively appropriates “…of Our Climate”‘s paradisiac imperfection for its own purpose.

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Filed under: Analysis, Poetry, Stevens, Writing, , , , ,


July 2018
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