“The Poems of Our Climate” by Wallace Stevens

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

I
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

II
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
We now turn from the poet’s obsession with another person to the poet’s obsession with his or her own life and death. Nabokov’s imperfect closing rhyme in last Tuesday’s Humbert’s Poem, “hardest/stardust,” perfectly captures the sentiment expressed in the final lines of Wallace Steven’s “The Poems of Our Climate” — which, less poem than koan, was mediocre in my opinion, until the fat Harold Bloom (fat in a Falstaffian way) convinced me of its merit. The imperfect (hardest/stardust), says Stevens, is our paradise. The imperfect (hardest/stardust) is “hot in us” — hot as in that burning desire, that wanting, wanting climate which heats us all internally and keeps us alive.

“Delight,” he concludes, “lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.” Whereas Poe, Shakespeare and Nabokov stir us along with breezy meters, Stevens switches off the song entirely. A meditative silence, fresh and brilliant-edged. Snow, clear, pink, white, cold, brilliant — these are words of emptiness. They smell like snow — that is, like nothing. And they are precisely the words which Stevens gathers, examines and finally, in the penultimate line, burns away with his own eternal summer, his own volcanic heart, his own too hot (“sometimes too hot the eye in heaven shines“), evilly compounded, vital I.

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