Friday, September 23, 2011

Wallace Stevens: Human Arrangement

There is another poem of Wallace Stevens that I would like to put here. It touches in on the same theme as "A glass of water", shedding light on something of the same the " of water" does and which might seem hard to grasp. The only reason it seems hard to grasp, I think, is because it is so surprisingly simple.

But first things first:


Place-bound and time-bound in evening rain
And bound by a sound which does not change

Except that it begins and ends,
Begins again and ends again 

Rain without change within or from
Without. In this place and in this time

And in this sound, which do not change,
In which the rain is all one thing,

In the sky, an imagined, wooden chair
Is the clear-point of an edifice,

Forced up from nothing, evening's chair,
Blue-strutted curule, trueunreal,

The centre of transformations that
Transform for transformation's self,

In a glitter that is a life, a gold
That is a being, a will, a fate.

* * *

First of all I notice how nice it is to have "human" in the title of this poem. It feels like a warm welcome somehow, even though the first line almost makes me feel that being human is something limiting. "Place-bound and time-bound" he starts off, pinning us to our concepts of time and space. I guess he is kind of right; these concepts are important to most of us and practically viewed as something given. Are they, though.

Again we see that a poem of Stevens' involves beginnings and ends. "It begins and ends, / Begins again and ends again". This gives a sense of a neverending movement, or a time with no beginning or end. This of course waves time in the normal linear sense goodbye. Do we really know any other way of looking at time? Most of us probably don't. Also, these words might point at how human lives begin and end and begin and end again, over and over; a cycle of birth and death and birth, each of us expressing something human. This in itself is a kind of endlessness, I guess that is, as long as humans exist.

The evening rain in this poem is like a soft backdrop (nearly literally); grey, moist, silent. Somehow the sound of evening rain feels to me like a direct translation of something very human. I don't really know why the softness of it, as mentioned, and the just-there-ness, the quiet way it settles on the earth. (I realise that much of humans' activities on this planet doesn't exactly rhyme with settling quietly anywhere, but I am speaking more of the humanity in every human, the common ground we hold and spring from.)

As always Stevens sounds a little mysterious at times. "The centre of transformations that / Transform for transformation's self" does sound rather convoluted. But I get the sense of something glimmering right underneath, something so simple that it is hard to phrase, that words simply complicate the matter. The "human arrangement" as probably the most intelligent being on this planet, we do have quite a responsibility on our hands. The centre of transformation who else can embody and execute that but us? This transformation, though, "transforms for transformation's self" seemingly independent of us as its vessel. I have the feeling that both transformation of consciousness, the way we look at ourselves, our world, our fellow beings including animals, our beliefs, that all of this is up for transformation. Why shouldn't it? Transformation, movement; development. And no one can govern that transformation better than we can. Is this what Stevens meant? I don't know. But that is what his words is stirring up in me.

This transformation happens in "a glitter that is life, a gold / That is a being, a will, a fate." This beautiful ending cuplet brings back the human feel to me. It seems he is implying that life, which to us is intercoiled with being human, is a glitter, a gold, and that this gold is a being, a will, a fate. I get the sense that this is Stevens' view of what human life is. These words send a warm golden glow into me, making me sense directly the simplicity, beauty and responsibility of being human.

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