Saturday, April 11, 2009

“Six Significant Landscapes”

Our Weekly Poem is, I think, a real beauty by one of my all-time favorite poets Wallace Stevens. It’s a kaleidoscopic view of six landscapes, & proves one thing I love about Stevens—that you can deal with philosophical concepts without losing a sense of beauty— & a sense of humor. One might say these are six "imagined" (i.e., as opposed to "real") landscapes, but that would, I think be missing the point. Otherwise, “Six Significant Landscapes” to my mind is a poem that explicates itself—it means exactly what it says.


Six Significant Landscapes

An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
In China.
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
Over weeds.

The night is of the colour
Of a woman's arm:
Night, the female,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.

I measure myself
Against a tall tree.
I find that I am much taller,
For I reach right up to the sun,
With my eye;
And I reach to the shore of the sea
With my ear.
Nevertheless, I dislike
The way ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.

When my dream was near the moon,
The white folds of its gown
Filled with yellow light.
The soles of its feet
Grew red.
Its hair filled
With certain blue crystallizations
From stars,
Not far off.

Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
Can carve
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.

Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Wallace Stevens


  1. And enjoy this I did! I think I particularly like the line... "Not all the...
    Can carve
    What one star can carve,
    Shining through the grape-leaves."
    To me it shows the power of nature alone. I think that is why I love seeing the moon through the pine trees.
    Happy Easter weekend.

  2. I enjoyed the poem, as well. The last stanza is quirky and wonderful, isn't it? I gotta get me a sombrero.

    btw - your verification word is "swoeterd" - pronounced "sweatered"? I like it. It makes me think of Beowulf.

  3. Hi Lizzy: Yes, that stanza is very beautiful, & that's one of my favorite lines as well. Happy Easter!

    Sandra: Yes! The sombrero line is great.

    "swoeterd" looks very Anglo-Saxon!


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