This was supposed to be the Weekly Poem last Saturday, until I got in a snit over the news & fell into a bit of a funk that I could only resolve by posting "pity this busy monster, manunkind." This week, I’m back on my feet, psychologically speaking (“psychological feet”—now there’s a concept), so I’m posting this poem from Wallace Stevens’ 1923 collection, Harmonium.
It's a truism, no doubt, that “Of the Surface of Things” is deceptively simple, especially in its sort of “anti-poetic” diction & its apparently plain-spoken manner. Stevens seems to be having a bit of a joke at his own expense in the very “poetical” line, “The spring is like a belle undressing”; otherwise, the poem appears pretty matter-of-fact, & taken in by its prosaic syntax, we may encounter quite a shock when we reach the third stanza.
Questions that seem relevant to me:
- Is the tree gold or blue “on the surface?”
- Is “the singer” the speaker (the “I” of stanzas one & two) or someone else?
- What is the relationship of the world that “consists of three or four/Hills and a cloud” to the world where “The gold tree is blue” & “The moon is in the folds of [the singer’s] cloak”? Is the latter stanza a transformation of the first stanza—or is it a deliberate “poeticizing,” such as “The spring is like a belle undressing.”
I don’t have “the answers,” really, but the poem intrigues me. Hope you enjoy it.
Of the Surface of Things
In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
Hills and a cloud.
From my balcony, I survey the yellow air,
Reading where I have written,
'The spring is like a belle undressing.'
The gold tree is blue,
The singer has pulled his cloak over his head.
The moon is in the folds of the cloak.