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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Of Mere Being - Wallace Stevens

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without humming meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.


The imaginative and the real mix here, in the state "of mere being" at the mind's end.  To Stevens, the end of the mind, the furthest reaches of our collective imaginations, are populated by things that do not make sense to us, and I believe, are not made to make sense.

Why is there a palm tree?  Why is there a bird in it?  Why is all the decor bronze?  I do not think that matters at all, and furthermore, I don't think Stevens thinks it matters.  The bird is "humming without meaning, without human feeling, a foreign song."  At the edge of our mind, all becomes foreign.  It's a fact that in real life, bird songs are indeed foreign.  They only have what meaning we give them, in terms of emotional content.  Stevens is making statements of fact, not feeling.  "The bird sings. Its feathers shine."  The sentences are short, clipped things, mere statements, mere being.

I like particularly the way in which Stevens characterizes the wind as moving slowly in the branches, rather than the branches moving slowly in the wind.  It's a nice turn of phrase and gives interest to a poem otherwise filled with distinct yet meaningless images.  Sometimes things just are, and I think that's the point of this poem.  Being is enough, and existence doesn't need to be justified by anything other than itself.

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