Expansive Poetics – (Wallace Stevens)

Wallace Stevens ( 1879-1955)

AG: Wallace Stevens is a great poet, but metrically not that interesting, I don’t think, philosophically interesting, so as a tiny little sample of Wallace Stevens, I just took one very late poem (from The Rock), when he was an old man – he was a friend of (William Carlos) Williams and he wrote the introduction to Williams’ first book…first Collected Poems  (Collected Poems, 1921-1931, published by the Objectivist Press in 1934).-  called “Lebensweisheitspielerei”  – does anybody know German? – “Lebensweisheitspielerei”

Student: Life..Life…”Leben” is life and “Spiel” is play

AG: So “Weisheit” ? what is Weisheit?…  Life’s true game.. Life’s true play.. Life’s true plot.
(I never knew that)

Student: Play, game, play..

AG: Life’s true play – It is a poem that would be worthy of (William) Burroughs’ implacable benevolent attentive indifference –


Weaker and weaker, the sunlight falls
In the afternoon. The proud and the strong
Have departed

Those that have left are the unaccomplished,
The finally human,
Natives of a dwindled sphere.

Their indigence is an indigence
That is an indigence of the light,
A stellar pallor that hangs on the threads.

Little by little, the poverty
Of autumnal space becomes
A look, a few words spoken.

Each person completely touches us
With what he is and as he is,
In the stale grandeur of annihilation.

That’s a really solid thought. Very beautiful. Because that’s really what it feels like when you get older. “Each person…” –  You notice, all the bullshit gets stripped away. What’s left is “the unaccomplished” (because everything fails, in a sense, “everything turns to skeleton, ash and bone”, as  (Jack) Kerouac noticed  – “Those that are left are the unaccomplished/, The finally human” – recognizing their own flesh and bone and mortality – “Natives of a dwindled sphere” – Libby (sic), at the age of fifty, might have many children and be an absolutely hearty, happy “native of a dwindled sphere”.

Student (Libby) : I’ll be living in utopia

AG: That might be your utopia –  “Their indigence” – that is, their lack of revolutionary spirit..let us (say) –  “Their indigence is the indigence..”  – which is the indigence of the life itself, of actual existence – “A stellar pallor that hangs on the threads” – “stellar” from stars – (a) pallor that hangs on the threads”- like life hanging on the thread of stars, of actual stars – stars have small light (In fact, I was reading Heraclitus today, and Heraclitis said that, if it were not for the sun, the stars would not be able to overcome the dark) – “Little by little” the poverty/ Of autumnal (end-of-the-year) space – “the poverty of autumnal space becomes/A look, a few words spoken”  – at the most the inner poverty, the most intense communication   is just “a look (and) a few words spoken”,  like old people that have been married for fifty years really know each other and tell volumes in a single glance – “Each person completely touches us/ With what he is and as he is” – so you finally see people stripped off their own projections and your own and stripped of the projection of immortality- “In the stale grandeur of annihilation” – “stale”, because you get the musk of the tomb coming out of it, as well as (that) it’s an old familiar awareness that comes back – “grandeur”, because it’s vast, the place is vast, I mean the space we’re in is vast.

[Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-one-and-a-half minutes in]

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