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More Thoughts on the Titles of Wallace Stevens’s Poems

Here’s a response to Greg Gerke’s post about the the titles of Wallace Stevens’s poems.

Well, it’s hardly surprising that titles by Stevens—a poet whose exemplary diction is not merely a “hubbub of words,” but something more like a house of many mansions—would  be carefully crafted, but what is surprising is the pleasure you can receive simply by reading a list of them (and Greg’s list is a fine one, one that reflects his own interests and obsessions, as well as  his humorous side), how any number of associations bubble up while doing so.

Also, what’s remarkable about many of the titles is that they also seem suited for titles of paintings, e.g., “The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage” (reminiscent, to me, at least, of “Nude Descending a Staircase”) and “Two Figures in Dense Violet Night”; for titles of portraits: “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (I can’t help thinking of Picasso whenever I think of that title, for obvious reasons), “Man and Bottle”, “Man Carrying Thing”, “The Man on the Dump”, “Large Red Man Reading”, “The Sick Man”, “Girl in a Nightgown”, “Mrs. Alfred Uruguay”, “Woman Looking at a Vase of Flowers”, “Sketch of the Ultimate Politician”, “A Pastoral Nun”, “Nuns Painting Water Lilies”, and one of my favorites: “So-and-So Reclining on her Couch”; for the title of a madonna painting: “The Virgin Carrying a Lantern”; for titles of paintings of architecture: “Gallant Chateau”, “The Blue Buildings in the Summer Air” (Edward Hopper comes to mind), “St. Armorer’s Church from the Outside” (here I think of the Rouen Cathedral series by Claude Monet, which captures the light on the cathedral’s façade at different times throughout the day and year); for titles of abstractions: “Domination of Black” (I’m thinking of color field paintings here) and “Long and Sluggish Lines” (conceptual artists, like Sol Lewitt et al., come to mind); for titles of landscapes: “Hibiscus on the Sleeping Shores”, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds”, “Landscape with Boat”, “Mountains Covered with Cats”, and “July Mountain”; for the title for a polyptych: “Six Significant Landscapes”; for titles of any number of still lifes: “Floral Decorations for Bananas”, “A Dish of Peaches in Russia”, “Bouquet of Belle Scavoir”, “The Red Fern”, “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight”, “A Glass of Water” (its banality suggesting Gerhard Richter, to me), and “A Completely New Set of Objects”; for the titles of philosophical treatises: “What We See is What We Think”, “The Plain Sense of Things”, “Prologues to What is Possible”, “Two Illustrations That the World is What You Make of It”, “The World as Meditation”, “Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself”, “Reality Is an Activity of the Most August Imagination”, and “Of Mere Being”; for titles of weird, lyrical essays, e.g., “Metaphors of a Magnifico”, “Of the Manner of Addressing Clouds”, “Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb”, “Of the Surface of Things”, “Exposition of the Contents of a Cab”, “Anatomy of Monotony”, “American Sublime”, “Add this to Rhetoric”, “Anything is Beautiful If You Say It Is”, “Contrary Theses I” “Contrary Theses II”, “Examination of the Hero in a Time of War”, “The Pure Good of Theory”, “Analysis of a Theme”, “The Prejudice Against the Past”, and “This as Including That”; for titles from a collection of essays on poetry: “Poetry is a Destructive Force”, “The Poems of Our Climate”, “Of Modern Poetry”, “Certain Phenomena of Sound”, “The Motive for Metaphor”, “Poesie Abrutie”, “Thinking of a Relations Between the Images of Metaphors”, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”, “The Ultimate Poem is Abstract”, “Metaphor as Degeneration”, and “The Role of the Idea in Poetry”; for the titles of sermons: “How to Live. What to Do” and “God is Good. It is a Beautiful Night”; for titles of musical compositions: “Nuances of a Theme by Williams”, “Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion”, “Sonatina to Hans Christian”, “Martial Cadenza”, “Late Hymn from the Myrrh Mountain”, “Song” (“She loves me or loves me not,”), “Song” (“Ah yes! beyond these barren walls”), “Street Songs”, “Night-Song”, “Ballade of the Pink Parasol”, and “Song” (“There are great things doing”); and here are titles from an imagined collected short (and supreme) fictions: “Anecdote of Canna”, “The Plot Against the Giant”, “Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks” “Anecdote of the Jar”, “Anecdote of the Abnormal”, and “Two Tales of Liadoff”.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

2 thoughts on “More Thoughts on the Titles of Wallace Stevens’s Poems

  1. A list that suggests a glistening waterfall in stop-action, & yet it’s not Disney, either, nor some prettied-up nature flick for Imax. Far too electric for that.

  2. Cheers John. Oh yes, the titles like titles of paintings surely sticks out. I would have to think it out more, but when I read Stevens I do feel like I am in a Cezanne painting. Stevens has written about painting in ‘The Necessary Angel.’ He adored Paul Klee and I’m sure he looked at Cezanne.

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