the reader became the book...

Wallace Stevens

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.


Stevens refused the presence of any overt autobiography in his writing … yet his works clearly define the man, the psychological and emotional weathers of personal being, as much, if not more so, than a poet who sets out to tell his or her story in verse. I’m thinking of Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg. By that I in no way mean to negate their vast and necessary contributions. Simply this, I can and do identify with Stevens’ work in a very personal way because his focus was the universal – yet he allowed room for the personal … the reader leaning late and reading there.

This poem describes my inner life – at least one distilled and perfect moment – in as complete a view as is possible.


Anonymous said...

Here here, Sam. A gorgeous poem about the internal life - which in the reading recreates the feeling it describes.

Great thoughts on the poem too. Thanks!

Andrew Shields said...

Check out Adrienne Rich's stunning discussion of this in her book "What Is Found There." It's hardly longer than the poem, but it is as brilliant an interpretation of a poem as I have ever read.

James Owens said...

Wonderful poem, and I think you're absolutely right about Stevens and the personal.

Isn't this exactly what we all want, as readers and as writers, though it is achievable only in these rare, shinging moments? --- "The words were spoken as if there was no book."

Andrew Shields said...

Sam, I found the bit from Rich; do you want me to scan it and send it to you? It's brilliant.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the comments, Melissa & James.

And Andrew, yes, do send it on. Thanks.