Wallace Stevens: Imaginative Metamorphosis

When I read several poems of Wallace Stevens, I found them difficult to understand mainly because of his choice of words. It is not easy to grasp the meaning of Stevens’ poems in an instant, but there is a certain kind of lyricism that is evident in his poems: his style includes repetition of words or phrases and incorporation of sounds (assonance and alliteration) that renders the poems pleasurable when read aloud. I came to like more his later poems, in which they showcase the creative power of the poet’s mind. The Stevensian poetry employs diversity in form, style, melody, and feelings.

Most of his poems are written in free verse, and there are wide variations of rhythm in his poetry collection. Most of his poems deals about human relationships, poems about nature, artistic imaginations, ephemeral quality of human life (as shown in the poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”) or anything that is moral, philosophical or even religious in nature.

Wallace Steven’s poems are meant to be spoken aloud, the very feel of words in his poems in one’s mouth is pleasurable. Take for example, the alliterations in the poem, The Emperor of Ice-Cream: “dresser of deal”, “her horny”, “Let the lamp…” and “In kitchen cups, concupiscent curds.” If we read the first line of the poem we can hear that the first two feet of the poem is trochaic (wherein the first syllable in each foot is stressed, and the next syllable is an unstressed one):

Cáll thĕ // róllĕr // ŏf bíg // cígărs //

Using this kind of foot feels like the poem is calling our attention because of the abruptness of how it should be read, since the trochaic feet tends to create a sudden or rocking rhythm. In the poem, the poet articulates the carpe diem tenet, everyone wants to ‘seize the day’ especially in context of the wake setting implied in the poem. However, the poem is open to more interpretations, and a sensual, erotic meaning can also be derived because of the words and phrases: “cigars” (can be considered as “phallic” symbol), “muscular”, “concupiscent”, “wenches”, and “horny”.

Another good example of how the poet shows an effective combination of sound and sense is in his other poem entitled “Nomad Exquisite”. Here, the poet’s skills in dealing with subjects like nature and human imagination in the meditative mode is clear. The speaker of the poem is in liaison with nature and the poem shows to us the unity of all things in the world. The sights and sound in his poetry is deeply felt, the use of repetitive lines, imagery, and metaphors invites the readers to achieve the poem’s fullest possible meaning. The delight in reading this poem aloud is easily recognized, especially in the later part of this poem when the sound effects seems to be in climax:
Fórms, // flámes, // ănd thĕ flákes // ŏf flámes //

indeed, an effective combination of alliteration and assonance and sense of the poem.

Personally, the pleasure in poetry is achieved when we come to understand the meaning of each poems read and scrutinized. And it is very true in the case of Stevens poems. Although we are initially intimidated because most of his poems are clouded with philosophy and moral colorations, still, a little closer reading of the poem tells us that the poet is adept in dealing with the music and lyricism in his poetry that evokes imaginations from us readers.


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