Fictive Things Wink as They Will

Needed some sere severe poetic discourse (to replace one headache with another).  Don’t fret over what seems obscure here but relish the nuggets that hit you where you live. The bold type is my emendation. For all his pompous learning, Stevens was a prankster and a tease.  Bold type is mine, not the poet’s, to repeat repeatedly.

      “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”

By Wallace Stevens

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk, [love this]
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.
[Um…Sooo…the point is that there is no point except the pointless point we posit just for the heck-fun of it? Okeedokey. Fine. Where’s my old rosary?]

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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3 Responses to Fictive Things Wink as They Will

  1. jef says:

    To me this poem is ~ 60% impenetrable, then starts to stir in the murk and comes haltingly to life with ….. ‘Therefore, that in the planetary scene/Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed/Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade’ … which I take to be a reference to the gaudy possibility that we self-regarding microbes may have souls gamboling about the spheres, which would indeed make certain widows wince, and others, one supposes, sigh. ‘Disaffected flagellants’ is about as dead-on a descriptor as I’ve heard of our puny gang of knuckle-draggers. And if there isn’t a rock band called Disaffected Flagellants churning away somewhere, then I don’t know what. Stevens’ ‘may, merely may’ reminds me strikingly of possibly my favorite Bellow passage – the closing of his short story ‘The Old System’, a moving summation of the Big Lumpen Question that never fails to make me blush with gratitude. As I am doing even now. Thx for the challenging verse, dear Margaret!

    Liked by 1 person

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