Saturday, November 29, 2008

“Lunar Paraphrase”

Hey, we’re having a holiday weekend around these parts—& as a result I’m a bit off my posting schedule; distracted by turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, fried kale & spinach, pumpkin & pecan pies, etc. etc.

All of which has nothing to do with this week’s poem; & in fact, I’d assumed this week I was going to post a different poem altogether, one that would have been apropos of wintery weather, which all the forecasts were predicting for our little corner of the world going back several days ago. So, being the ever dutiful blogger I wrote up a weekly poem post based on that prediction—which, I’m happy to say, didn’t come to pass: our lovely fall weather is still hanging on.

Which is all to say that this week’s actual poem posting comes a bit on the fly in the midst of holiday feasting & long evening jam sessions & leisurely breakfast conversations; but it does bring us a poem by one of my all-time favorite poets, Wallace Stevens (somehow, tho, Wallace Stevens’ Banjo just wouldn’t have had the same ring….)

Stevens poetic career is itself an interesting study; he seemed to have been pulled between being a man of letters & a man of practical affairs throughout his life. On the one hand, his poems are characterized by whimsy, by word play, by a fascination with aesthetic & philosophical questions, especially focusing on the powers of the imagination; on the other hand, he had a law degree, & rose to prominence in the insurance industry, becoming a vice-president of Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. in 1934—this from the same man who’d submitted poems to Harriet Monroe’s seminal modernist journal Poetry in 1914 under the pen name of “Peter Parasol.” His first book of poems Harmonium (& one of my all-time favorite volumes of poetry) wasn’t published until 1923, when Stevens was 44 years old.

The poem “Lunar Paraphrase” wasn’t included in the first edition of Harmonium. It was added to the 2nd edition in 1931, tho the poem dates to the World War I years. The poem looks for consolation in a desolate November landscape, & moving past the images of religious figures, it focuses on the moon shedding light in the darkness (s0 to speak), tho this also is a “golden illusion,” which earlier is described as “old light” that moves “feebly.” Stevens is often a poet who contemplates the evening quietude, & who also looks to various landscapes as echoing an internal reality. His view of the natural world was inherently romantic, even as it was colored by his fascination with the French symbolist poets.

Hope you enjoy this Stevns’ poem; I’m sure more of his poems will show up on this blog in the future.

Lunar Paraphrase

The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.

When, at the wearier end of November,
Her old light moves along the branches,
Feebly, slowly, depending upon them;
When the body of Jesus hangs in a pallor,
Humanly near, and the figure of Mary,
Touched on by hoar-frost, shrinks in a shelter
Made by the leaves, that have rotted and fallen;
When over the houses, a golden illusion
Brings back an earlier season of quiet
And quieting dreams in the sleepers in darkness —

The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.

Wallace Stevens, 1918, 1932

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