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Friday, February 09, 2007

Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is

The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens

There was a time when I knew a lot about poetry. I read it, explicated sonnets, wrote long, critical essays on the structure of Robert Creeley's verse, memorized Sir Philip Sidney, and, at one point, carried on a correspondence with a contemporary experimental poet of some renown.

But gradually, the stuff began to wear me down. It was either form without function, or confessional whining, or meditations on the oak tree in one's yard in New Haven, or dense and impenetrable for the sake of being dense and impenetrable. And if it wasn't any of those things, it was probably boring.

So, until yesterday, I'd ditched poetry, making an exception only for Everette Maddox, and sometimes, Anne Sexton and James Wright. Then, while I was at work, events transpired to bring me to the Wallace Stevens poem, "The Snow Man."*

This dredged up a slew of memories from the semester during college when I spent a lot of time thinking about concupiscent curds, high-toned old Christian women, and the genius of the sea. Those were the days when the blackbird was involved in what I knew, and it was like nothing else in Tennessee.

Good times.

I feel bad about having thrown Wally out with the bathwater all those years ago, and hope he and I can be good buddies again.
Here it is, one of poetry's most famous run-on sentences, complete with a nice little staring-into-the-abyss moment at the end.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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