Thursday, August 3, 2017

Poetry is my transcendental bridge to the sublime

First of all, there is this opening to an article from

Poetry, literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm

Poetry is a vast subject, as old as history and older, present wherever religion is present, possibly—under some definitions—the primal and primary form of languages themselves.

Read the rest of Howard Nemerov's wonderful, must-read article at this link.

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And now I invite you to read, ponder, and respond to this poem by Wallace Stevens:

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

"The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm" by Wallace Stevens from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. © Vintage, 2015.

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Finally, there is this personal postscript:

I know (or, more accurately, suspect) the Wallace Stevens poem has much more "meaning" than I am about to ascribe to it, and perhaps a few dozen more readings would help me to more completely understand the "meaning," but I will nevertheless say now what it "means" to me after about a dozen readings:

My reading of literature, especially my reading of poetry as I get older and approach the universal endgame, allows me to understand more completely (and even look beyond) my limited time and space in life; and when I really -- I mean really -- read closely, carefully, and well, I somehow cross over a transcendental bridge to the sublime. 

Now, I ask you a few questions:

What is poetry?
What does the Stevens poem mean by "The reader became the book"?
What does the Stevens poem "mean" to you?
What are your favorite poetry reading experiences? 


  1. You can say of poetry what Justice Potter Stuart said about pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you see it. As for the reader becoming the book, reading is a co-creative endeavor. The reader has to imagine in his own what words say.

    1. Frank, in poetry, to me, each word becomes unique, personal, and mine alone. That must sound selfish. Well, all silent reading is a very selfish exercise. Reading poetry aloud to myself is an indulgence.

  2. I think books provide not just escape (although they can certainly do that), but also knowledge, ideas, and much more, Tim. They are worlds in and of themselves, and readers interact with those worlds. This, in a sense, means that every reader creates a different world with the same book. That interaction fascinates me.

    1. Margot, yes, the individual interaction, to my mind, is the key. This tidbit on reader response theory might interest you:

  3. R.T.--the following is what I wrote when I posted on this poem several years ago.

    "This poem best describes the act of reading, as least as far as I am concerned. The flowing into a union of the reader, the writer, the ideas/words, and the night convey what I experience when I look back at a time when I was absorbed in a book. I am somewhere else and only partially me. To say I am only reading words on a page is true, but only partially true. It is not the whole truth. Emily Dickinson said some thing very similar when she wrote, 'There is no frigate like a book/To take us Lands away.'"

    1. Well said, Fred. The notion of being somewhere else and only partially yourself rings true for me every now and then. Those are the times when I hate having my reading interrupted by anything or anyone. I guess that's selfish of me, but I must ride that frigate alone.

  4. R.T.--yes, I also find that Person from Porlock very irritating.

    1. Fred, your allusion, not familiar to me, taught this old dog a new trick; here is where I went to learn:
      So, thanks, Fred. Arf,

  5. i read this poem as an attempt to describe a 360 degree image of one gestalt: the reader sitting reading a book... it's not just the reader reading, it's the book being read, the night being quiet, summer being summer, and attention being attentive... i think Stevens is trying to indicate that reality is not just individual ego, but includes the whole surround: it's all present and must be accounted for...

    poets i like: lewis carroll, edward lear, ogden nash, walt kelly

    1. Gestalt, Mudpuddle? That's one of those words from the past I would see and hear a lot but don't understand. I'm off to Bing.

      Walt Kelly? More Bing!