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Musical glimpses – Hugo, Stevens, Baudelaire

I stumbled on this bit of Victor Hugo in a book on nineteenth century French poetry[1]:

Sara, belle d’indolence
……….Se balance
Dans un hamac, au-dessus
Du bassin d’une fontaine
……….Toute pleine
D’eau puisée à l’Ilyssus ;

Et la frêle escarpolette
……….Se reflète
Dans le transparent miroir
Avec la baigneuse blanche
……….Qui se penche,
Qui se penche pour se voir …

My first thought was simply how lovely this is; it makes you wish English could dance in rhyme as easily as French can. My second was how like a lot of Wallace Stevens it is – the Wallace Stevens of … Continue Reading

A tiny metrical detail in “The Idea of Order at Key West”

The detail that struck me is me in the second stanza of this poem:

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all she sang there stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

Expressing the iambic rhythm in your reading necessitates almost unnaturally heavy stresses on the first syllable of “Even” in line 3 of the stanza and on “may” and “all” … Continue Reading

Wallace Stevens, “The Load of Sugar-Cane”

I don’t know Wallace Stevens’s work well but I want to make a few simple comments on “The Load of Sugar-Cane” – a slight piece but one that is weirdly haunting. You can find the text at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Load_Of_Sugar-Cane .

One thing that keeps you rereading it is the elusiveness of the tone. From the start the poem gives off completely contradictory signals in this regard. After the prosaic, factual title the first two lines are both extremely and self-consciously beautiful in their sound patterning:

The going of the glade boat
Is like water flowing.

They can seem almost to beg you … Continue Reading

Wallace Stevens, “Fabliau of Florida”

Do other people find this poem as haunting as I do? I don’t know how I’d begin to persuade anyone who didn’t instantly feel its beauty that it really is an extraordinary piece of writing. In a sense it’s not much more than the evocation of a scene which a more ordinary description might present more clearly. The pleasure it gives me seems to me to have two essential sources. One is the near perfection of its phrasing and timing, giving a feeling of almost animal rightness to its … Continue Reading