“The Poems of Our Climate” by Wallace Stevens

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

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.

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.

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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3 Responses to “The Poems of Our Climate” by Wallace Stevens

  1. Pingback: The Paradisical Imperfect | One True Sentence

  2. Marsha Hammond PhD

    I’ve read “poems of our climate” by Stevens a thousand times. At least.

    The image is particularly poignant in the winter… Dragging on and on into seemingly oblivion.

    And then Stevens catches the ear as does Renoir in the series of paintings of silken young women in “the Boating Party”: a snapshot: the white carnations in a porcelain white bowl as the winter comes to a close. To me, Stevens presents a series of Polaroid snapshots separated by a significant amount of time such that they r a poetic triptych. Marsha Hammond Asheville NC

  3. I’ve read Steven’s poem many times, I’ve found it intriguing. Because he uses climate in the title, a reader might be inclined to think the poet is using seasons somehow as a metaphor for the calm or coolness of our personality and our hot or passionate side. But I think what Stevens is trying to express is that the beauty that surrounds us (every day) in living beings, landscapes, the life cycles of animals and plants, the fruits of these cycles, are for some reason not enough to maintain a peace of mind in ourselves, or to be offered as models to emulate. You’d think that beauty alone would be a balm, but according to Stevens, it’s not, and I agree with him on this point.

    There’s something in the human condition, the mind, the ego, the psyche, however you’d like to describe it, that is somehow not satisfied with their current state. Because of internal desires, or a feeling of insecurity, of a worry about not reaching a certain station in life, or potential, we have a need to desire more than we have or own, and so goes the cycle of never being satisfied with our condition (climate, if you will). Because we are able to reach for more than we have, the temptation always exists to pursue it, and thus we take simplicity and beauty and the gifts that we’ve already been given for granted because we assume we can always return to these things (feelings, emotional peace, etc.) Monks, saints, and the occasional beautiful human being, or child might be able to manage the balancing act of the human mind but it’s rare for others to do this successfully…

    Stevens says the mind is not content to stay put, “since the imperfect is so hot in us”, and we wind up making mistakes, some costly ones, and often need to lick our wounds after we overreach. Animals for some reason know when it’s time to rest, to eat, to sleep, to nurture and not nurture their young (when the species is successful). It must be the “never-resting mind” in humans that complicates our ability to do this and to do this in sync with the cycle of the seasons. I think Stevens is writing about the human condition, just sizing it up if you will. I’m not sure if there’s an antidote offered here, but I guess, if you believe that 12-step programs can work, stating that you have a problem in step 1 is a place to start.