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Old 04-01-2018, 06:38 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Default Esthétique du Mal

I have always been excited about the first section of Stevens’ “Esthétique du Mal” but, on re-reading it this time, I felt it was as great as “Sunday Morning” and “Ideas of Order at Key West:”

Esthétique du Mal

I

He was at Naples writing letters home
And, between letters, reading paragraphs
On the sublime. Vesuvius had groaned
For a month. It was pleasant to be sitting there
While the sultriest fulgurations, flickering,
Cast corners in the glass. He could describe
The terror of the sound because the sound
Was ancient. He tried to remember the phrases: pain
Audible at noon, pain torturing itself,
Pain killing pain on the very point of pain.
The volcano trembled in another ether,
As the body trembles at the end of life.

It was almost time for lunch. Pain is human.
There were roses in the cool café. His book
Made sure of the most correct catastrophe.
Except for us, Vesuvius might consume
In solid fire the utmost earth and know
No pain (ignoring the cocks that crow us up
To die). This is a part of the sublime
From which we shrink. And yet, except for us,
The total past felt nothing when destroyed.


Whereas “Sunday Morning” and “Idea of Orders at Key West” belong to Stevens’ “vatic” voice,” this piece is, for the most part, novelistic. We get the great banal contrast of “It was almost time for lunch” between a lofty simile and a universal statement:

The volcano trembled in another ether,
As the body trembles at the end of life.

It was almost time for lunch.

Pain is human.

. . . . .

Yes, these twenty one lines are greatness.
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Old 04-02-2018, 12:55 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Thanks for this, Aaron. I enjoyed reading it of an Easter Monday morning.

I wonder if Stevens had Leopardi's famous poem about Vesuvius in mind, "La Ginestra." The themes (insignificance of pain or even individual lives in relation to geological time and nature's indifference) are similar.
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Old 04-02-2018, 05:11 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Is that the one that says "E il naufragar m'e dolce in questo mare"? Tremendous line. I do like Leopardi.

Cheers,
John
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Old 04-02-2018, 05:49 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Isbell View Post
Is that the one that says "E il naufragar m'e dolce in questo mare"? Tremendous line. I do like Leopardi.

Cheers,
John
That would be "L'infinito," one of the greatest Italian poems but quite a bit shorter than "La ginestra." I love Leopardi too.

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 04-02-2018 at 05:52 AM.
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Old 04-02-2018, 06:34 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Thanks Andrew. I may have to dig him out, in my cheaty bilingual text. :-)

Cheers,
John
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Old 04-02-2018, 05:13 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Pooch,

Such great lines! It's work like this that makes Stevens my favorite 20th century poet. Blessed rage for order.
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Old 04-03-2018, 04:10 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Well, since the thread has been started, here is Stevens' harrowing definition of modernity:

Cuisine Bourgeoise

These days of disinheritance, we feast

On human heads. True, birds rebuild

Old nests and there is blue in the woods.

The church bells clap one night in the week.

But that’s all done. It is what used to be,

As they used to lie in the grass, in the heat,

Men on green beds and women half of sun.

The words are written, though not yet said.

It is like the season when, after summer,

It is summer and it is not, it is autumn

And it is not, it is day and it is not,

As if last night’s lamps continued to burn,

As if yesterday’s people continued to watch

The sky, half porcelain, preferring that

To shaking out heavy bodies in the glares

Of this present, this science, this unrecognized,


This outpost, this douce, this dumb, this dead, in which

We feast on human heads, brought in on leaves,

Crowned with the first, cold buds. On these we live,

No longer on the ancient cake of seed,

The almond and deep fruit. This bitter meat

Sustains us … Who, then, are they, seated here?

Is the table a mirror in which they sit and look?

Are they men eating reflections of themselves?
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Old 04-03-2018, 05:03 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Lovely. Yes, Stevens is a tremendous wordsmith.

Cheers,
John

Update: I love the story of his funeral, with a big crowd of poetry admirers, and one pinstriped colleague turning to another and saying "Did you know Wallace wrote poetry?"

Last edited by John Isbell; 04-03-2018 at 06:59 PM.
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Old 04-04-2018, 08:38 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is online now
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Ha! I did all of Stevens in a grad class, which means I read through a lot of stuff perhaps too quickly...which means I missed this gem, Pooch.

This is modern culture, isn't it: "Who, then, are they, seated here? / Is the table a mirror in which they sit and look? / Are they men eating reflections of themselves?"
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Old 04-09-2018, 02:01 PM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Hecht alludes to this opening section of "See Naples and Die": "In the poet's words, / It is almost time for lunch." Probably not the most memorable line from Stevens...
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