Esthetique Du Mal (and Wallace Stevens as a whole) sometimes reads like SCA-Ji Philosophy, which is no surprise though since Wallace Stevens was sort of like poetry’s equivalent of Kusanagi Naoya (in terms of daily life philosophy), given that he never stopped being a business man even while winning poetry awards everywhere, and also made this comment:
“I think they used study as a contrast to poetry. The mind cannot always live in a “divine ether.” The lark cannot always sing at heaven’s gate. There must exist a place to spring from—a refuge from the heights, an anchorage of thought. Study gives this anchorage: study ties you down; and it is the occasional wilful release from this voluntary bond that gives the soul its occasional overpowering sense of lyric freedom and effort.”
“A little romance is essential to ecstasy…The world holds an unoccupied niche only for those who climb up—work and study, study and work—are worth a decade of dreams—and romantic notions—but I do not believe in being so thoroughly practical that what is beautiful, what is artistic—what is delicate or what is grand—must always be deferred to what is useful.’
And thus, at the time of his death, he was “not only one of the leading poets of the English-speaking world, but also the foremost American authority on surety bonds.”
Below are excerpts:
His firm stanzas hang like hives in hell
Or what hell was, since now both heaven and hell
Are one, and here, O terra infidel.
The fault lies with an over-human god,
Who by sympathy has made himself a man
And is not to be distinguished, when we cry
Because we suffer, our oldest parent, peer
Of the populace of the heart, the reddest lord,
Who has gone before us in experience.
If only he would not pity us so much,
Weaken our fate, relieve us of woe both great
And small, a constant fellow of destiny,
A too, too human god, self-pity’s kin
And uncourageous genesis . . . It seems
As if the health of the world might be enough.
It seems as if the honey of common summer
Might be enough, as if the golden combs
Were part of a sustenance itself enough,
As if hell, so modified, had disappeared,
As if pain, no longer satanic mimicry,
Could be borne, as if we were sure to find our way.
Livre de Toutes Sortes de Fleurs d’apres Nature.
All sorts of flowers. That’s the sentimentalist.
When B. sat down at the piano and made
A transparence in which we heard music, made
In which we heard transparent sounds, did he play
All sorts of notes? Or did he play only one
In an ecstasy of its associates,
Variations in the tones of a single sound,
The last, or sounds so single they seemed one?
And then that Spaniard of the rose, itself
Hot-hooded and dark-blooded, rescued the rose
From nature, each time he saw it, making it,
As he saw it, exist in his own especial eye.
Can we conceive of him as rescuing less, –
As muffing the mistress for her several maids,
As foregoing the nakedest passion for barefoot
Philandering? . . . The genius of misfortune
Is not a sentimentalist.
Be near me, come closer, touch my hand, phrases
Compounded of dear relation, spoken twice,
Once by the lips, once by the services
Of central sense, these minutiae mean more
Than clouds, benevolences, distant heads.
These are within what we permit, in-bar
Exquisite in poverty against the suns
Of ex-bar, in-bar retaining attributes
With which we vested, once, the golden forms
And the damasked memory of the golden forms
And ex-bar’s flower and fire of the festivals
Of the damasked memory of the golden forms,
Before we were wholly human and knew ourselves.
The sun, in clownish yellow, but not a clown,
Brings the day to perfection and then fails. He dwells
In a consummate prime, yet still desires
A further consummation. For the lunar month
He makes the tenderest research, intent
On a transmutation which, when seen, appears
To be askew. And space is filled with his
Rejected years. A big bird pecks at him
For food. The big bird’s bony appetite
Is as insatiable as the sun’s. The bird
Rose from an imperfection of its own
The shadows of his fellows ring him round
In the high night, the summer breathes for them
Its fragrance, a heavy somnolence, and for him,
For the soldier of time, it breathes a summer sleep,
In which his wound is good because life was.
No part of him was ever part of death.
A woman smoothes her forehead with her hand
And the soldier of time lies calm beneath that stroke.
He disposes the world in categories, thus:
The peopled and the unpeopled. In both, he is
Alone. But in the peopled world, there is,
Besides the people, his knowledge of them. In
The unpeopled, there is his knowledge of himself.
Which is more desperate in the moments when
The will demands that what he thinks be true?
Is it himself in them that he knows or they
In him? If it is himself in them, they have
No secret from him. If it is they in him,
He has no secret from them. This knowledge
Of them and of himself destroys both worlds,
Except when he escapes from it. To be
Alone is not to know them or himself.
It may be that one life is a punishment
For another, as the son’s life for the father’s.
But that concerns the secondary characters.
It is a fragmentary tragedy
Within the universal whole. The son
And the father alike and equally are spent,
Each one, by the necessity of being
Himself, the unalterable necessity
Of being this unalterable animal.
Victor Serge said, “I followed his argument
With the blank uneasiness which one might feel
In the presence of a logical lunatic.”
He said it of Konstantinov. Revolution
Is the affair of logical lunatics.
The politics of emotion must appear
To be an intellectual structure. The cause
Creates a logic not to be distinguished
From lunacy . . . One wants to be able to walk
By the lake at Geneva and consider logic:
To think of the logicians in their graves
And of the worlds of logic in their great tombs.
Lakes are more reasonable than oceans. Hence,
A promenade amid the grandeurs of the mind,
By a lake, with clouds like lights among great tombs,
Gives one a blank uneasiness, as if
One might meet Konstantinov, who would interrupt
With his lunacy. He would not be aware of the lake.
He would be the lunatic of one idea
In a world of ideas, who would have all the people
Live, work, suffer and die in that idea
The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel. The adventurer
In humanity has not conceived of a race
Completely physical in a physical world.
The green com gleams and the metaphysicals
Lie sprawling in majors of the August heat
The rotund emotions, paradise unknown.
This is the thesis scrivened in delight,
The reverberating psalm, the right chorale.
One might have thought of sight, but who could
Of what it sees, for all the ill it sees?
Speech found the ear, for all the evil sound,
But the dark italics it could not propound.
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.