Jeff Crompton's Reviews > The Collected Poems

The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens
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's review
Aug 29, 2011

it was amazing
Read in January, 1988

I'm marking this book as "read," although I'm not sure I've read every poem. This is certainly not a book which can be read cover-to-cover in a few sittings, at least not by someone of my intellect.

I fell in love with Stevens' famous "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" during my freshman year in college. The images were striking and beautiful, even though I didn't understand what the poem was about. But the mystery was part of the appeal. I "understand" the poem more now, but there will always be an element of mystery to it, and to all of Stevens' poetry.

Stevens' poetry is difficult; I don't see any other way to put it. Even when he uses simple language, his word choices and sentence construction can be strange and puzzling. Here's a fairly short poem which I mostly "get," "Anecdote of the Jar":

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

I've turned to some of these poems, like "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" and those I've mentioned above, many times over the years, and derived great pleasure from them. But even the ones I don't understand fascinate me. All pleasures in life are not easy ones; some things are worth working for.
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