Thursday, May 8, 2014

                                      It is more difficult to evade 
That habit of wishing and to accept the structure
Of things as the structure of ideas. It was the structure
Of things at least that was thought of in the old peak of night.
I do not think of myself as a devotee of Wallace Stevens. But the volume was lying on my desk, a research artifact in a recent editing project, so I opened it at random this morning and read the lines above, which end his brief poem "The Bed of Old John Zeller."

Immediately I felt the vibration. The poem required my attention. Immediately I turned back the page to read the opening lines.
The structure of ideas, these ghostly sequences
Of the mind, result in only disaster. It follows,
Casual poet, that to add your own disorder to disaster 
Makes more of it.
I do not know if Stevens is speaking to me. I do not know if Stevens is speaking to you through me. But I am writing down what he said, which you may or may not require, which may or may not terrify you.

[For copyright reasons, I cannot share the entire poem here, nor am I quickly finding a link to it online. So you will have to open your own volume to read the rest of it.]


Anonymous said...


Christopher Woodman said...

I love that, Dawn -- and it gives me a chance to clarify a little my last awkward comment.

I can't find that poem anywhere, but I did find some references to old John Zeller, Wallace Stevens' great great grandfather, which confirmed me in my hunch.

The terrible dilemma of consciousness is that to have it you also have to die, yet without it you don't know you're alive. Ditto ideas in general, that only by accepting your own mortality can you get a glimpse of immortality, for want of a better word.

Poetry can incarnate such perceptions even when the ideas don't exist in nature. Indeed, my feeling is that poetry today is becoming a new entrance into those realms which before could be talked about only in church or imagined in heaven.

Philip Larkin's "Church Going" is a touchstone moment for many readers in relation to this, it's so simple, profound, sensible yet truly "beyond belief" — that's what the poem actually says. Go in there and everything's falling apart, yet in coming face to face with the loss you know you're on the threshold of something else inestimable. And the same moment occurs in "High Windows."

Or for Stanley Kunitz at the end of "King of the River."

He is not broken but endures,
limber and firm
in the state of his shining,
forever inheriting his salt kingdom,
from which he is banished
for ever.

Yes, you can say Wallace Stevens is an aesthete, but it's in his sort of poetic forms and ideas that persons become human. Wallace Stevens gives us a glimpse of that super-human condition in the refined poetry he wrote at his desk -- John Zeller found it on his knees before the cross.

Your wonderful photo of the stone wall finds it right at the end of your garden. Indeed, the photo reveals everything you need to know even if it's just in pixels.


Dawn Potter said...

The poem is included in "The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play," if that's any help. I'm still not exactly sure how to absorb its message, but I do know that sarcasm is not the explanation. Irony, perhaps: but even that, I think, is overlaid with something far more vulnerable. And it's not wrong to hear "bardic" as well.

Christopher Woodman said...

Yes, I hear that too.


Anonymous said...

The structure of ideas, these ghostly sequences
Of the mind, result in only disaster.

It follows,
Casual poet, that to add your own disorder to disaster

Makes more of it.

Adding disorder to disaster is already ironic and sarcastic and then to say that it "Makes more of it" is a belly laugh!

There are numerous articles about this on the web but I would remind you that that thing on your face is your nose.