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2 Hartford Bourguignon: ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’ (1942) and cymbeline
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moynihan, ‘Checklist: Second Purchase’, 83, 86.
Atherton Fleming, Gourmet’s Book of Food and Drink (London: John Lane, 1933), 103, 106. See
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.
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 […]
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
‘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 CPP, 135–6.