On “The Motive for Metaphor”

“The Motive for Metaphor” was the third poem in Stevens’s 1947 book.


The Motive for Metaphor

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon—

The obscure moon lighting and obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound—
Steel against intimation—the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.


I’m attracted to this poem because it begins so peacefully with a first line of wonder–but that first line is immediately shot down with the thumping seven-syllable second ending in “dead.” And what seemed to be pastoral, bucolic and peaceful ends in the violence of the “dominant X.” The ride is a lot like life. The motive for such movements? A perfect metaphor for life.

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