Monday, August 31, 2015

A Summer without end seen through the imagination of Wallace Stevens, Poet

Wallace Stevens, Poet, Insurance Executive (1879-1955)

We are still in the throes of summer this day, the 30th of August 2015.

Though fall is only three weeks away, the temperatures today in lower New England are in the low 90's and more of the same is forecast for the first week in September.

That 'summer's lease hath all too short a date'  seems not in accord with our current weather cycles; yet 'Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines.' (both quotes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18)

So what's going on?

We have emerged from one of the worst winters going back to the blizzard of 1947.

Indeed, the winter of 2015 is one  that no one here in the East will ever forget.

Poets from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot and William Wordsworth have written paeans to the dramatic entry of spring.  (For my celebration of National Poetry Month and the Anticipation of Spring: click here.)

These poets powerfully recorded  the transition from harsh spring (e.g 'April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out the dead land,' T.S.Eliot) to the sudden appearance of flora ('When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils,' William Wordsworth.)

So I thought it befitting to celebrate summer with some verse from one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens, pictured above.

Farm in Oley Valley, Pennsylvania near Reading where Stevens was born.
Stevens writes: 'One of the limits of reality Presents itself in Oley when the hay, 
Baked through long days, is piled in mows.' 
From Wikipedia Oley Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania

Stevens (1879-1955) was a New Englander who attended Harvard and built a career as an executive at a Hartford, Connecticut  insurance company.

When the the dead heat of summer arrives, when the sun beats down daily on our human landscape, when life, as we know and experience it slows down to a crawl--a 'snails pace,'  the sun is magnified into a reigning omnipresent Sun-God.

Truth is illuminated ... by the very light, the very brilliance, the very permanence of the sun.

In 'Credences of Summer' (click here to hear Stevens read the poem) Stevens brings together many images, frozen in time by the relentless heat, that serve to exalt and capture in an iphoto instant image, the majesty and the squalor ('And last year's garden grows salacious weeds') of the universe and the divinity inherent in the Rule of the Sun ("of sapphires flashing from the central sky, As if twelve princes sat before a king.")

The 'author' of summer is not only the active, concerned and caring  choirmaster of '...happiest folk-land, mostly marriage-hymns'  and of '...last choirs, last sounds...Pure rhetoric of a language without  words.'

He can also be seen as a more passive  'inhuman author' who 'does not hear his characters talk,' and who meditates With gold bugs, in blue meadows, late at night.'

The poem ends on a high colorful note;  he sees his characters 'mottled, in the moodiest costumes,

Of blue and yellow, sky and sun, belted
And knotted, sashed and seamed, half pales of red,
Half pales of green, appropriate habit for
The huge decorum, the manner of time,
Part of the mottled mood of summer's whole,

In which the characters speak because they want
To speak, the fat, the roseate characters,
Free, for a moment, from malice and sudden cry,
Complete in a completed scene, speaking
Their parts as in a youthful happiness.