Friday, May 07, 2010

Wallace Stevens: The Wind Shifts

This poem by American poet and lawyer Wallace Stevens was published in 1923, when Stevens was 44 years old. The collection is called Harmonium and was, as far as I know, Stevens' first published collection of poetry.

His poems often have a refined tone, almost as if they are a little out of reach, like slightly unapproachable people who just seem to be a bit better than you in everything, without you really understanding how and why. This poem has a somewhat lighter or more simple tone than many of the poems I have read by him, but a simple surface tends to be quite traitorous.


This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.


To me, this poem indicates that great responsibility is laid on our shoulders, that unclarity and unmetabolised thoughts and beliefs are quite as dangerous as more material or physical troubles. What we think and how we act do make an impact, and perhaps more than we normally think. Not only do we impact our surroundings, but also what one could call the human space - our shared sphere of ideas and movement of beliefs and values, really the overall level of consciousness which we create and sustain.

I think it is the general movement throughout this poem which speaks most directly to me. There is a windswept feeling as if someone is unsettling the balance of the finely tuned fugue of Being, gushes of air which are perhaps necessary in order to notice what one made unbalanced in the first place. There really is the sense of a great human breath here, a sense that all our mistakes, disruptions and disturbances of the global environment (spiritually as well as physically) are necessary and simply part of the way the human species is unfolding.

Naturally this reading is quite influenced from the climatic challenges we are now facing, but the sense of responsability and the invisible ways in which our thoughts and murky inner waters influence our space is quite striking to me in this poem. I think I'll explore Wallace Stevens' poetry more. It seems I can choose a random page of his collected poetry and find something of depth and refinement there. How much more recommendation do I need?

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