Sunday, March 30, 2014

Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself - Wallace Stevens

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,

A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind

The sun was rising at six,

No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism 

Of sleep's faded papier mâché...
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry - it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,

Still far away.  It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

This poem, a prelude to spring heralded by one scraggly bird's squawk, offers a vivid image of the cusp of seasons' change.  In a way, it's a hopeful look towards a brighter future, literally and figuratively.  We always think of spring as a season of beginnings, growth, and life, and that's presaged here mainly with the image of the sun, and with a sort of music of nature.

The description of the sun as a battered panache (decoration) above the snowy landscape is very humanistic.  How many times have you looked out at a wintry landscape in March and felt somewhat weary?  It's as if the sun, that massively hot thing so far away, somehow holds no power over winter.  But the bird's cry, which was not a hallucination, as Stevens first wonders ("a scrawny cry from outside seemed like a sound in his mind.") is the first signal of what is to come.  It was actually outside, not merely a dream, which is described as "sleep's faded papier mâché."  

The "colossal sun" which is "surrounded by its choral rings" is the life giving force at work in this poem's world and indeed in our own world.  The idea of music coming with the sun makes me think of the antique concept of the music of the spheres, with a celestial music being created in the great and unfathomable order of Creation.  Here, it's nothing so grand, but rather, one cry of a bird, like "a chorister whose c preceded the choir."  At the same time, is there anything so grand as the chirp of a bird after a long winter?

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