And out of what one sees and hears and out
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
With the metaphysical changes that occur,
Merely in living as and where we live.
—Wallace Stevens, “Esthetique du Mal”
And out of what one sees and hears and out
These bland excursions into time to come,
Related in romance to backward flights,
However prodigal, however proud,
Contained in their afflatus the reproach
That first drove Crispin to his wandering.
He could not be content with counterfeit,
With masquerade of thought, with hapless words
That must belie the racking masquerade …
Wallace Stevens, from “The Comedian as the Letter C” (1923)
This may be benediction, sepulcher,
And epitaph. It may, however, be
An incantation that the moon defines
By mere example, opulently clear.
Wallace Stevens, from “Academic Discourse in Havana” (1936)
“We are preoccupied with events, even when we do not observe them closely. We have a sense of upheaval. We feel threatened. We look from an uncertain present toward a more uncertain future. One feels the desire to collect oneself against all this in poetry as well as in politics… Resistance is the opposite of escape. The poet who wishes to contemplate the good in the midst of confusion is like the mystic who wishes to contemplate God in the midst of evil. There can be no thought of escape. Both the poet and the mystic may establish themselves on herrings and apples. The painter may establish himself on a guitar, a copy of Figaro and a dish of melons. These are fortifyings, although irrational ones. The only possible resistance to the pressure of the contemporaneous is a matter of herring and apples or, to be less definite, the contemporaneous itself. In poetry, to that extent, the subject is not the contemporaneous, because that is only the nominal subject, but the poetry of the contemporaneous. Resistance to the pressure of ominous and destructive circumstance consists of its conversion, so far as possible, into a different, an explicable, an amenable circumstance.”
- Wallace Stevens, “The Irrational Element in Poetry” (via lit-hum.org)
“True, the desire to read is an insatiable desire and you must read. Nevertheless, you must also think. Intellectual isolation loses value in an existence of books. I think I sent you some time ago a quotation from Henry James about living in a world of creation. A world of creation is one of the areas, and only one, of the world of thought and there is no passion like the passion of thinking which grows stronger as one grows older, even though one never thinks anything of anything particular interest to anyone else. Spend an hour or two a day even if in the beginning you are staggered by the confusion and the aimlessness of your thoughts.”
From Letters of Wallace Stevens, ed. Holly Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1966; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. p 513
The Place of the Solitaires
Let the place of the solitaires
Be a place of perpetual undulation.
Whether it be in mid-sea
On the dark, green water-wheel,
Or on the beaches,
There must be no cessation
Of motion, or of the noise of motion,
The renewal of noise
And manifold continuation;
And, most, of the motion of thought
And its restless iteration,
In the place of the solitaires,
Which is to be a place of perpetual undulation.
Wallace Stevens, 1923
Nothing beyond reality. Within it,
Everything, the spirit’s alchemicana
Included, the spirit that goes roundabout
And through included, not merely the visible,
The solid, but the movable, the moment,
The coming on of feasts and the habits of saints,
The pattern of the heavens and high, night air.
From Wallace Stevens’s “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” (1950)
The nothingness was a nakedness, a point
Beyond which thought could not progress as thought.
He had to choose. But it was not a choice
Between excluding things. It was not a choice
Between, but of. He chose to include the things
That in each other are included, the whole,
The complicate, the amassing harmony.
From Wallace Stevens’s “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” (1947)
In the presence of extraordinary actuality, consciousness takes the place of imagination.
Modern reality is a reality of decreation.