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2 Hartford Bourguignon: ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ (1942) and cymbeline

2 Hartford Bourguignon: ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ (1942) and cymbeline

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Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

survival of our entire cultural tradition.’ 29 Stevens would never write the

war poetry of Shapiro, Jarrell or Douglas, just as he refrained from the

literary-political invective of Tate and the New Critics.30 But, as I have

argued elsewhere, this demanding poem, with its engaging French title,

must have appealed symbolically to Partisan Review’s editors, especially

to their belief that literature under war should be as challenging as ever,

if not more so.31

Initially, ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ appears far from partisan. Yet it

emerges as a ‘pro-French’ poem retaining the poetic advantage of saying

nothing overtly pro-French.32 My analysis here focuses on Stevens’ favourite French wine region, Burgundy, discussing the place of Stevens’ title

in a poem that eroticizes imaginative terrains and plays with vinous allusion. Although I have previously discussed the poem’s portrayal of love,

I return here to Stevens’ ingenious allusion to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline,

one illuminating how ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ shares that play’s taste for

assumed names and beguiling identities.33 If the shape-changing of the

amour characterizes the imaginative work of this ‘Francophile’ poem, its

Protean subtlety resides in appearing to wrest a piece of France and project it into Stevens’ own backyard: an abstract appropriation implicit in

the poem’s very title.

Few discussions of ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ have considered the relationship between the poem and its title, perhaps because, unlike those

of Stevens’ other ‘Francophile’ poems, this particular title remains coy,

refusing to invite a ‘manner’ of reading. ‘Le Monocle de Mon Oncle’

ironizes ‘men at forty’, themselves prone to irony; ‘Esthétique du Mal’

confronts the relationship between aesthetics and human suffering.34 The

title ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’, however, does not offer explicit clues as to

how to read a poem which itself forges no sustained relationship with

France. The closest it gets is the ‘chateaux’ of stanza twenty-six, combined

Partisan Review 9.1 (1942), 2.

His distaste for MacLeish was, however, aired to James Thrall Soby (see Brazeau, Parts of a

World, 119).


See Ragg, ‘Love, Wine, Desire’, 183–209.


Longenbach suggests Stevens’ early 1940s abstract writing marks ‘not a retreat from the political content of the social realism of the 1930s’ but ‘a rebellion against the coercive demand

of ideological explicitness’ and ‘an assertion of internationalist values’ (Wallace Stevens, 253).

The ‘internationalist’ ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ may indirectly represent an aesthetic corrective to



See Ragg, ‘Love, Wine, Desire’. For love, desire and erotic attention, see Vendler, Wallace Stevens

and Barbara M. Fisher, Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous (Charlottesville, VA: University

Press of Virginia, 1990). ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ does not feature in either study, however.


CPP, 12.



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with the Franco-derived ‘lascive’, ‘malisons’, ‘friseured’ and ‘demoiselles’.35 In fact, one might think ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ entirely fictional,

an invented place-name (or other proper noun) with only a passing, even

eccentric, relationship with France.

But ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ does evoke Burgundy and the shadow of

Occupation. Le Montrachet is a Grand Cru vineyard situated in the heart

of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Planted with some of the world’s most

prized Chardonnay, it is shared geographically between the villages of

Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Vineyard site, however,

takes precedence over village name. Thus, ‘Le Montrachet’ is typically

prominent on the labels of wines made from this Grand Cru appellation.

Indeed, the names of many Burgundian villages are double-barrelled to

reflect their associations with particular Grands Crus. Gevrey-Chambertin

signals its proximity to Le Chambertin (the vineyard Napoleon allegedly

had his troops salute), Chambolle-Musigny appropriates Le Musigny, and

Vosne-Romanée incorporates the famous vineyard of La Romanée.

The case of Le Montrachet is unusual, however, because it is claimed

by competing villages:  Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet

(until the late nineteenth century called Puligny and Chassagne). The

name is also etymologically compelling, mont rachet meaning ‘shaven

mountain’. Le Montrachet was originally known as Mons rachicensis

(‘uncultivated hill’) and, by the thirteenth century, as Mont-Rachat (‘bare

hill’): an ideal spot for growing grapes.36 Its gentle slope is complexly oriented, but no mountain. The noun ‘Montrachet’ is also infectious because

the other Grands Crus associated with these two villages likewise hyphenate to raise status:  as in Chevalier-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet,

Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet.

Bâtard (‘bastard’) signifies much about Burgundian culture as well as

forging a relationship with Stevens’ poem. Burgundy’s vineyards are subdivided geographically, qualitatively and proprietarily. For example, BâtardMontrachet is not as cherished as Le Montrachet, although in practice the

quality of wines deriving from each Grand Cru depends more on standards

of viticulture and winemaking than terroir (the variously defined French

term conveying the unique aspects of a vineyard’s locale). Hundreds of

different climats, each with its own terroir, are further subdivided proprietarily, a legacy of Napoleonic inheritance law which stipulated assets be

Ibid., 235–6.

Jacky Rigaux, Burgundy Grands Crus trans. Catherine du Toit (Clemency: Terre en vues, 2007),





Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

divided equally among offspring. The situation is reflected in the names of

Burgundian domaines today, along with the advantages of inter­marriage

between families. Thus Chassagne-Montrachet boasts the domaines of

Fontaine-Gagnard, Gagnard-Delagrange and Jean-Noël Gagnard as well

as Albert Morey, Bernard Morey, Jean-Marc Morey, Marc Morey (et Fils!),

and Michel Morey-Coffinet. Historically speaking, then, legitimacy was

especially important among Burgundian families.37

‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ echoes this phenomenon in the lines ‘Bastard

chateaux and smoky demoiselles, / No more. I can build towers of my

own’.38 In this covert allusion to a ‘bastardized’ Montrachet (perhaps

even Bâtard-Montrachet), the ‘smoky demoiselles’ evoke a particular

Burgundian site, ‘Les Demoiselles’ being a part of Chevalier-Montrachet.

A ‘demoiselle’ is an unmarried bourgeois woman. The word appears in

Stevens’ copy of Dictionary of the French and English Languages (1876), signifying a ‘young lady; girl; unmarried or single lady, single woman; maid;

miss; spinster; damsel; attendant, waitress; ( formerly) gentlewoman’.39

The subplot ‘Les Demoiselles’ was owned, during the 1880s, by the two

Viollot sisters, commonly addressed as ‘Mesdemoiselles’.40 In a poem

preoccupied, therefore, with occupying and ‘owning’ spaces  – be they

actual locales or abstractions of desire – Stevens’ title assumes a canny


But what about that title’s hyphenation, Stevens’ inversion of ‘Le

Montrachet’ and the ‘lower key’ tag jardin? There is no site in Burgundy

called ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’. There is a parcel of vines around PulignyMontrachet known as ‘Le Jardin’, but this is not officially recognized and

does not appear on wine labels or regional maps. It is, therefore, unlikely

Stevens knew of the ‘Le Jardin’ vines (even supposing they were called ‘Le

Jardin’ in the early 1940s). Instead, Stevens follows the Burgundian habit

of raising status by stressing proximity to a valuable locale, as though the

garden of 118 Westerly Terrace presented everything Le Montrachet could

offer the poet as armchair imaginative traveller.

Stevens probably read of Le Montrachet in his copy of Paul de Cassagnac’s

French Wines (1930) or in a slim brochure entitled The Wines of France which

See Rigaux, Burgundy Grands Crus; Anthony Hanson, Burgundy (London: Faber, 1995);

Remington Norman, The Great Domaines of Burgundy (London:  Kyle-Cathie Ltd, 1996); and

Jancis Robinson, ed., The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).


CPP, 236.


Ferdinand E. A. Gasc, Dictionary of the French and English Languages (New York: Holt, 1876),

168. For ‘demoiselles’, see also L, 851.


See Norman, The Great Domaines, 211.


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lies tucked inside his copy of a book called Racial Proverbs.41 The brochure’s

cover features a painting depicting dining tables, serving girls (demoiselles?),

chefs and chateaux, whilst the back comprises an artist’s ‘vinous map’ of

France marking Burgundy and the Moselle region of ‘Certain Phenomena

of Sound’. The map is inaccurate, particularly with Burgundy’s sub-regions,

but together these depictions constitute a ‘bourgeois fantasy’ of France.

Bernard Ragner, the brochure’s author, was editor of the Chicago Tribune’s

European edition from 1925 to 1929, and, writing of Burgundy’s Grands

Crus, mentions ‘Montrachet’, observing ‘each name [is] a glorious reality,

also a significant symbol’. Ragner also notes how the Côte d’Or region and

its wines have been prey to occupying forces: ‘Caesar’s legions drank them,

and appreciated them; so did the American Expeditionary Forces when

camped upon these fertile hills of gold.’ 42

Ragner’s comments cannot be dated exactly. But in choosing

‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ for a title Stevens perhaps implied that, in the

harsh climate of war, one must, as Candide concludes, cultivate a garden

(‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’).43 As Voltaire’s tale shows, life only comes to

have lasting value when Candide and his companions follow the example

of the cultivated Turk whose labour protects him and his family from

the alarming political developments of Constantinople.44 Stevens certainly associated Voltaire with freedom of action and expression. Writing

to Barbara Church about Partisan Review backer Allan Dowling’s socialist politics – note how that magazine surfaces again – Stevens speculated

on the emergent Cold War ideologies placing ‘freedom’ at a beguiling

premium:  ‘The total freedom that now endangers us has never existed

before, notwithstanding Voltaire, and so on.’ 45

Stevens’ allusion follows Dr Pangloss’ words to Candide:

There is a chain of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not

been turned out of a beautiful mansion at the point of a jackboot for the love of

Lady Cunégonde, and if you had not been involved in the Inquisition, and had

not wandered over America on foot […] you would not be here eating candied

fruit and pistachio nuts.46

Paul de Cassagnac, French Wines trans. Guy Knowles (London: Chatto and Windus, 1930);

Bernard Ragner, The Wines of France (publication unknown) as found inside Stevens’

copy of Selwyn Gurney Champion, Racial Proverbs:  A Selection of the World’s Proverbs

(London: Routledge, 1938).


Ragner, The Wines of France, unpaginated.


See Voltaire, Candide trans. Shane Weller (New York: Dover, 1993), 166.


Voltaire, Candide; or Optimism trans. John Butt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947), 142 ff.


L, 620.


Voltaire, Candide trans. Butt, 144.



Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

Candide partially acknowledges Pangloss’ argument, but ventures, ‘but

we must go and work in the garden’. The relationship between honest

endeavour and ‘this best of all possible worlds’ marks an acceptance of

‘things as they are’, an argument Stevens partially acknowledges in

his ‘notwithstanding Voltaire and so on’. But, although the jardin of

‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ only echoes Candide, Pangloss’ words eerily evoke

occupied France, where evictions from mansions ‘at the point of a jackboot’ were common. That said, the above translation dates from 1947, so

it is unsurprising its translator rendered Candide in an idiom attractive to

a post-war readership: a tale meditating upon warfare, misery, depravity

and unmerited fortune(s).

That Voltaire’s tale does respond to contemporary interpretation, however, follows the spirit of Stevens’ echo. ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ understands the privilege of having the freedom to eat ‘candied fruit and

pistachio nuts’, appreciating how that pleasure is partly informed by the

labour preceding and succeeding the relative leisure of consumption (a

point Chapter 7 discusses with regard to Stevens’ bourgeois abstractions).

As the poem suggests, we may say ‘amen to our accustomed cell’ – accepting a Panglossian ‘chain of events’ – while also desiring a world of ‘responsive fact’ in dialogue with the freedom of our imaginations, the freedom

Voltaire also signifies for Stevens.47

Whatever ‘Voltaire’ suggests, Stevens’ ‘Jardin’ does echo occupied

France. Maintaining France’s vineyards in war-time was a matter of

national pride, and the practice of bricking up cellars to conceal prestigious bottles from the Nazis commonplace, especially in Burgundy.48

Admittedly, Stevens’ poem, unlike ‘Certain Phenomena of Sound’, lacks

a garden. The ‘persona’ who conceives a ‘Terra Paradise’ finds that fireside

meditation ironically deflated: ‘I affirm and then at midnight the great cat /

Leaps quickly from the fireside and is gone’ – a resignation similar, if less

plaintive, to Yeats’ ‘Lines Written in Dejection’: ‘When have I last looked

on […] the dark leopards of the moon?’49 Stevens’ idealist ‘I’ finds no space

in this poem. However, the human delight in cultivating gardens clearly

captures ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’, as jardin proves nonetheless evocative.

Stevens’ inversion of ‘Le Montrachet’ also slackens the article ‘Le’,

rather than affirming the Montrachet distinct from its related vineyards.

CPP, 235, 237.

See Don and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: the French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s

Greatest Treasure (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001).


Yeats, The Poems, 195; CPP, 237.



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In ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ that article applies equally to ‘Jardin’, the garden in which Montrachet might be absorbed (unless the phrase signifies

‘Le Jardin de Montrachet’, where the garden is subset to Le Montrachet).

Perhaps Stevens’ hyphenation involves two-way travel between garden

and vineyard, neither subsuming the other but becoming parts of a larger,

metaphorical whole. Certainly, the cachet of ‘Montrachet’ persists, as if

Stevens were harnessing its etymology: acquiring his own ‘shaving’ from

the ‘mountain’ and transplanting it home, grafting that space on to his

imaginative roots or projecting those roots on to Le Montrachet.

The Collected Poetry and Prose should, therefore, retain ‘Montrachet-LeJardin’ (as it appears in Partisan Review) rather than adopt ‘Montrachetle-Jardin’. Kermode and Richardson note: ‘The present volume prints the

text of the first printing of the Knopf edition [of Parts of a World]’ and

that printing does have ‘Montrachet-le-Jardin’ in its contents with the

poem’s title in the main text appearing in block capitals.50 Nevertheless,

the article ‘Le’ should remain capitalized because of the poem’s ostensible relationship with Le Montrachet (unless one argues ‘Montrachet-leJardin’ deliberately attenuates the cultural dominance of the French site).

More problematic is the editors’ gloss: ‘Montrachet-le-Jardin] A white

wine’.51 No wine of this name exists and it is highly unlikely Stevens

ever found one. The poet did, however, cultivate an interest in wine and

owned two significant gastronomic titles:  the aforementioned French

Wines and Atherton Fleming’s Gourmet’s Book of Food and Drink (1933).52

French Wines is more relevant here. But one can imagine Stevens relishing

Fleming’s text, which features numerous international dishes including

recipes for curried lobster and mango chutney (although ‘lobster Bombay’

seems to have been Stevens’ creation).53

French Wines addresses ‘the gourmet who is seeking theoretical and

practical information’, ‘the Frenchman who loves the treasures of his

country’ and ‘the foreigner who wants to understand all that is France’.54

Cassagnac discusses the gourmet and connoisseur which doubtless

appealed to the poet of ‘Connoisseur of Chaos’, another vinous piece

from Parts of a World (‘a law of inherent opposites, / Of essential unity, is

as pleasant as port’):

CPP, 972. I am grateful to Jonathan Strange for confirming this.

Ibid., 1001.

Moynihan, ‘Checklist: Second Purchase’, 83, 86.


Atherton Fleming, Gourmet’s Book of Food and Drink (London: John Lane, 1933), 103, 106. See

CPP, 347.


Cassagnac, French Wines, 8.





Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

The real connaisseur uses without misusing and remains moderate in his pleasures – a moderation all the more praiseworthy because of the occasional temptation to overstep it: his love of wine is based on the pure aesthetic appreciation

of its perfection.55

Cassagnac’s connoisseurship extends to literature, venturing analogies

between wine and poetry:

Take, for example, Margaux 1900. A magnificent bottle of wine without a fault.

But it fails to sweep us […] to those giddy heights to which […] that same

Margaux, but an 1875, lifts the admiration of the connaisseur. An exact parallel

is the difference between a work of art executed classically and a masterpiece;

or a poem, the prosody of whose verses is perfect, and an inspired poem, Abbé

Delille and Alfred de Musset.56

If Stevens lacked firsthand experience of Château Margaux, Cassagnac’s

writing probably captured his imagination, particularly through vicarious wayfaring:  ‘Jump into your car and start from Paris for the south,

pottering along the road. As soon as you reach Olivet you’ll find the vineyards of the Loire’.57 This narrative quality would have attracted Stevens

as much as a letter or objet d’art from Thomas McGreevy, Leonard van

Geyzel, Ebba Dalin, or Anatole or Paule Vidal. Although obviously not

‘personally’ addressed to Stevens, Cassagnac’s writing would have piqued

the poet’s interest: ‘You stopped to lunch, tea, and dinner at good inns

or at friends’ houses: you got out of your car to admire and examine the

vineyards: you asked for information on […] the methods of culture and


Cassagnac also reveals how early twentieth-century Burgundy took

shape, mentions ‘Montrachet’ frequently and explains Burgundy’s doublebarrelled names (‘There is no doubt that Gevrey would be unknown

if it hadn’t tacked on Chambertin’).59 He describes the subdivision of

Burgundy’s vineyards and discusses the problem of poorly made, even

adulterated wines, appropriating prestigious names as misleading indices

of ‘quality’.60 When Cassagnac was translated, Burgundies were not, as

they often are today, domaine-bottled, which enabled négociants, and even

foreign merchants, to blend wines at their discretion. In short, there was

no guarantee a bottle labelled ‘Le Montrachet’ contained any wine from

that vineyard. Before the implementation of the mid-1930s Appellation

Contrôlée system, what was an authentic Burgundy was anybody’s guess.

CPP, 195; Cassagnac, French Wines, 6.  56 Cassagnac, French Wines, 27.

Ibid., 14.  58  Ibid., 14–15.  59  Ibid., 141, 143, 150.


See Cassagnac, French Wines, 142–52.



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Stevens’ title speculates, therefore, on the legitimacy and authenticity of

names, not least in its deft allusion to Cymbeline.

It could be objected that whilst Stevens owned French Wines he rarely

consulted it, let alone became acquainted with Burgundy. But I am not

arguing that Stevens relied on Cassagnac in composing ‘Montrachet-LeJardin’. Moreover, Stevens’ writing amply demonstrates his appreciation of

wine, Burgundy especially. Cassagnac’s work also chimes with Mauron’s

Aesthetics and Psychology, a work likewise blending gastro-aesthetic concerns. Take canto v of ‘It Must Give Pleasure’:

We drank Meursault, ate lobster Bombay with mango

Chutney. Then the Canon Aspirin declaimed

Of his sister, in what a sensible ecstasy

She lived in her house. She had two daughters, one

Of four, and one of seven, whom she dressed

The way a painter of pauvred color paints.

But still she painted them, appropriate to

Their poverty […]

(CPP, 347)

Meursault is another famous Burgundian village not far from Puligny

and Chassagne-Montrachet. As gastronomic token, the wine reflects the

contrast between leisured consumption and the tougher search for what

‘gives pleasure’, not least for the Canon Aspirin’s sister (does the Canon

require aspirin following overindulgence?). The canto focuses the relationship between aesthetic and gustatory pleasures. Indeed, for Stevens,

Cassagnac and Mauron, gastronomy and literature form parts of a larger

aesthetic whole. Significantly, it is having eaten that the Canon meditates upon his sister’s poverty, which, in turn, prompts further artistic

speculation: ‘The Canon Aspirin, having said these things, / Reflected,

humming an outline of a fugue / Of praise, a conjugation done by

choirs’.61 For Stevens, material conditions have a stake in imaginative

freedom and vice versa, as his comments on Voltaire suggest.

Stevens’ correspondence also refers to Burgundy. Following a trip to

New York, he wrote:

Since I had a car I brought home a load of mangoes, fresh apricots, the outsized

cherries that I like, a little Chablis and a little Meursault […] This last always

seems the coldest thing in the world on a hot day in the garden where I like to

have lunch occasionally if the neighbors are away as they often are.62

CPP, 347. 



  L, 682.


Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

Stevens’ passion for consuming Meursault in an undisturbed garden space

suggests how the title ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ proved inspiring (nor was

this an isolated incident).63 The freedom to enjoy, or imagine enjoying,

Chablis specifically was emblematic for Stevens.64 He even worried about

‘the mania of Marxism’, affirming: ‘[w]eather or no weather, people still

lunch on the terraces of Paris and drink Chablis’.65 Indeed, Stevens’ knowledge of Burgundy was sufficiently advanced that when Nelly de Vogüé,

daughter of the Comte de Vogüé (owner of the eponymous domaine in

Chambolle-Musigny), came to America to establish a literary magazine in

the early 1950s, he wrote to Barbara Church about the matter, mentioning

to José Rodríguez Feo that he associated ‘the name of de Vogüé either with

the Revue des Deux Mondes or with a moderately good Burgundy’.66

Meditation upon wine and especially love, as the epigraph to

‘Notes’ reveals in abstract form, preoccupied Stevens in early 1942.67

‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’, composed a few months earlier, opens with its

own apostrophe:

What more is there to love than I have loved?

And if there be nothing more, O bright, O bright,

The chick, the chidder-barn and grassy chives

And great moon, cricket-impresario,

And, hoy, the impopulous purple-plated past,

Hoy, hoy, the blue bulls kneeling down to rest.

Chome! clicks the clock, if there be nothing more.

(CPP, 234)

The poem ironically gestures to the creation (or discovery) of something

‘to love’, but teeters on naming its beloved, just as it seemingly shies from

directly naming Bâtard-Montrachet or Les Demoiselles. ‘Montrachet-LeJardin’ thus contrasts significantly with ‘Notes’ (especially its epigraph).

The rhetorical question opening ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ both is desirous

and feigns world-weariness: asking, literally, ‘Is there more for me to love

than I have loved?’ and resolving, ironically, ‘Can there really be more to

love than I have loved?’ Stevens’ giddy ‘Hoy, hoy’ and ironic ‘O bright, O

bright’ perhaps outweigh the literal question, and there is mock-finality in

‘Chome! clicks the clock’: time is up or passing. By contrast, ‘Notes’ feels

the presence of a beloved and names that love, even if its object remains

an abstract ‘supreme fiction’. ‘Notes’ is also the poem heralding the largest

See ibid., 512.  64  See ibid., 684.  65  Ibid., 687.

See WAS, 3768 and L, 741.


L, 239. See Ragg, ‘Love, Wine, Desire’, 194.



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glut of Stevensian names: a nomenclature for the poet’s mid-career trumpeting of abstraction.

Certainly, ‘Notes’ pivots on a tension between naming and resisting


              But Phoebus was

A name for something that never could be named.

There was a project for the sun and is.

There is a project for the sun. The sun

Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be

In the difficulty of what it is to be.

(CPP, 329–30)

The word ‘flourisher’ echoes ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’, Stevens using the

word only twice in the Collected Poems.68 However, ‘Montrachet-LeJardin’ considers ‘something’ to love which proves even harder to locate

than a ‘supreme fiction’, a ‘something more’ that is unnameable:

But if, but if there be something more to love,

Something in now a senseless syllable,

A shadow in the mind, a flourisher

Of sounds resembling sounds, efflorisant,

Approaching the feelings or come down from them,

These other shadows, not in the mind, players

Of aphonies, tuned in from zero and

Beyond, futura’s fuddle-fiddling lumps,

But if there be something more to love, amen,

Amen to the feelings about familiar things,

The blessed regal dropped in daggers’ dew,

Amen to thought, our singular skeleton,

Salt-flicker, amen to our accustomed cell,

The moonlight in the cell, words on the wall.

(CPP, 234–5)

Stevens’ anaphora (‘But if, but if’) – contrasting with ‘O bright, O bright’ –

accentuates a significant synaesthesia. The poem favours something in a

‘senseless syllable’, an abstract ‘shadow in the mind’, recalling Stevens’

extensive play on the centrality of mind in ‘Extracts from Addresses to the

Academy of Fine Ideas’.69 But that shadow, ‘a flourisher’, has a sonorous

base (‘Of sounds resembling sounds’). Moreover, the paronomastic ‘efflorisant’ (resembling ‘flourisher’) offers another visual dimension, following

See www.wallacestevens.com/concordance/WSdb.cgi.  


  See CPP, 232.



Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction

the sonorous ‘shadow’, because ‘efflorisant’ is a French-sounding adjective aping the English ‘effloresce’: to burst into flower (the English being


‘Efflorisant’ also evokes the ‘[s]alt-flicker’ of Stevens’ ‘singular skeleton’ –

the figure for ‘thought’ the poem explores – as ‘efflorescence’, chemically

speaking, denotes the crystallization of salts. Those spatial lines where

Stevens’ ‘sounds’ are ‘[a]pproaching the feelings or come down from them’

mimic emotion becoming crystallized. The OED defines ‘effloresce’ in

markedly spatial language: ‘(Chem., of crystalline substance) turn to fine

powder on exposure to air, (of salts) come to the surface and there crystallize, (of ground or wall) become covered with salt particles.’ Stevens adds,

therefore, a saline dimension to the crystalline pronouncements of Parts

of a World and ‘Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction’, among other 1940s

poems (observe the frequency of ‘crystal’, ‘diamond’ and ‘glass’ during

this period).70

‘But if there be something more to love’:  the anaphora is punctuated only by Stevens’ ‘amen’, a competing anaphora designed to assuage

those doubts about ‘other shadows’ arising in stanza five. The poem is

performative, grammatically silencing the clause beginning ‘These other

shadows, not in the mind, players / Of aphonies’. Stevens displays his

early penchant for ‘dramatic’ unresolved subordinate clauses (from ‘The

Man with the Blue Guitar’).71 This is ironic because ‘aphony’ is precisely

a loss or lack of voice, as if Stevens’ poem were giving voice to a voiceless

threat that must itself be silenced. The poem suggests a crystallization of

feeling where the unwieldy nuisance of ‘futura’s fuddle-fiddling lumps’ is

prevented from interrupting that incantatory ‘amen’.

The relationship between ‘amen’ and ‘futura’s fuddle-fiddling lumps’

appears textual. Futura is a sans-serif typeface similar to Arial or Century

Gothic (both deriving from Futura). Sans-serif type lacks the curls and

squiggles that make body text easy to read and is, therefore, especially

suitable for titles or headlines. These cold, futuristic ‘lumps’  – absolute blocks ‘tuned in from zero and / Beyond’ – assume little weight as

‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ lauds more ‘familiar things’. But Stevens remains

playful because one such familiarity is the mock-tragic: the quasi-Shakespearean ‘blessed regal dropped in daggers’ dew’.

Nevertheless, the poem also marks an acceptance of our mortal coil

(‘amen to our accustomed cell’), albeit tempered by ‘thought’, the ‘singular


See www.wallacestevens.com/concordance/WSdb.cgi.  

  See CPP, 135–6.


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