Representative Poetry Online
  Poet Index   Poem Index   Random   Search  
  Introduction   Timeline   Calendar   Glossary   Criticism   Bibliography  
  RPO   Canadian Poetry   UTEL  
by Name
by Date
by Title
by First Line
by Last Line
Poet
Poem
Short poem
Keyword
Concordance

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

The Comedian as the Letter C


I
The World without Imagination
              1Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil,
              2The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates
              3Of snails, musician of pears, principium
              4And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig
              5Of things, this nincompated pedagogue,
              6Preceptor to the sea? Crispin at sea
              7Created, in his day, a touch of doubt.
              8An eye most apt in gelatines and jupes,
              9Berries of villages, a barber's eye,
            10An eye of land, of simple salad-beds,
            11Of honest quilts, the eye of Crispin, hung
            12On porpoises, instead of apricots,
            13And on silentious porpoises, whose snouts
            14Dibbled in waves that were mustachios,
            15Inscrutable hair in an inscrutable world.

            16One eats one paté, even of salt, quotha.
            17It was not so much the lost terrestrial,
            18The snug hibernal from that sea and salt,
            19That century of wind in a single puff.
            20What counted was mythology of self,
            21Blotched out beyond unblotching. Crispin,
            22The lutanist of fleas, the knave, the thane,
            23The ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches, cloak
            24Of China, cap of Spain, imperative haw
            25Of hum, inquisitorial botanist,
            26And general lexicographer of mute
            27And maidenly greenhorns, now beheld himself,
            28A skinny sailor peering in the sea-glass.
            29What word split up in clickering syllables
            30And storming under multitudinous tones
            31Was name for this short-shanks in all that brunt?
            32Crispin was washed away by magnitude.
            33The whole of life that still remained in him
            34Dwindled to one sound strumming in his ear,
            35Ubiquitous concussion, slap and sigh,
            36Polyphony beyond his baton's thrust.

            37Could Crispin stem verboseness in the sea,
            38The old age of a watery realist,
            39Triton, dissolved in shifting diaphanes
            40Of blue and green? A wordy, watery age
            41That whispered to the sun's compassion, made
            42A convocation, nightly, of the sea-stars,
            43And on the cropping foot-ways of the moon
            44Lay grovelling. Triton incomplicate with that
            45Which made him Triton, nothing left of him,
            46Except in faint, memorial gesturings,
            47That were like arms and shoulders in the waves,
            48Here, something in the rise and fall of wind
            49That seemed hallucinating horn, and here,
            50A sunken voice, both of remembering
            51And of forgetfulness, in alternate strain.
            52Just so an ancient Crispin was dissolved.
            53The valet in the tempest was annulled.
            54Bordeaux to Yucatan, Havana next,
            55And then to Carolina. Simple jaunt.
            56Crispin, merest minuscule in the gates,
            57Dejected his manner to the turbulence.
            58The salt hung on his spirit like a frost,
            59The dead brine melted in him like a dew
            60Of winter, until nothing of himself
            61Remained, except some starker, barer self
            62In a starker, barer world, in which the sun
            63Was not the sun because it never shone
            64With bland complaisance on pale parasols,
            65Beetled, in chapels, on the chaste bouquets.
            66Against his pipping sounds a trumpet cried
            67Celestial sneering boisterously. Crispin
            68Became an introspective voyager.

            69Here was the veritable ding an sich, at last,
            70Crispin confronting it, a vocable thing,
            71But with a speech belched out of hoary darks
            72Noway resembling his, a visible thing,
            73And excepting negligible Triton, free
            74From the unavoidable shadow of himself
            75That lay elsewhere around him. Severance
            76Was clear. The last distortion of romance
            77Forsook the insatiable egotist. The sea
            78Severs not only lands but also selves.
            79Here was no help before reality.
            80Crispin beheld and Crispin was made new.
            81The imagination, here, could not evade,
            82In poems of plums, the strict austerity
            83Of one vast, subjugating, final tone.
            84The drenching of stale lives no more fell down.
            85What was this gaudy, gusty panoply?
            86Out of what swift destruction did it spring?
            87It was caparison of mind and cloud
            88And something given to make whole among
            89The ruses that were shattered by the large.

II
Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan
            90In Yucatan, the Maya sonneteers
            91Of the Caribbean amphitheatre,
            92In spite of hawk and falcon, green toucan
            93And jay, still to the night-bird made their plea,
            94As if raspberry tanagers in palms,
            95High up in orange air, were barbarous.
            96But Crispin was too destitute to find
            97In any commonplace the sought-for aid.
            98He was a man made vivid by the sea,
            99A man come out of luminous traversing,
          100Much trumpeted, made desperately clear,
          101Fresh from discoveries of tidal skies,
          102To whom oracular rockings gave no rest.
          103Into a savage color he went on.

          104How greatly had he grown in his demesne,
          105This auditor of insects! He that saw
          106The stride of vanishing autumn in a park
          107By way of decorous melancholy; he
          108That wrote his couplet yearly to the spring,
          109As dissertation of profound delight,
          110Stopping, on voyage, in a land of snakes,
          111Found his vicissitudes had much enlarged
          112His apprehension, made him intricate
          113In moody rucks, and difficult and strange
          114In all desires, his destitution's mark.
          115He was in this as other freemen are,
          116Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly.
          117His violence was for aggrandizement
          118And not for stupor, such as music makes
          119For sleepers halfway waking. He perceived
          120That coolness for his heat came suddenly,
          121And only, in the fables that he scrawled
          122With his own quill, in its indigenous dew,
          123Of an aesthetic tough, diverse, untamed,
          124Incredible to prudes, the mint of dirt,
          125Green barbarism turning paradigm.
          126Crispin foresaw a curious promenade
          127Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate,
          128And elemental potencies and pangs,
          129And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen,
          130Making the most of savagery of palms,
          131Of moonlight on the thick, cadaverous bloom
          132That yuccas breed, and of the panther's tread.
          133The fabulous and its intrinsic verse
          134Came like two spirits parlaying, adorned
          135In radiance from the Atlantic coign,
          136For Crispin and his quill to catechize.
          137But they came parlaying of such an earth,
          138So thick with sides and jagged lops of green,
          139So intertwined with serpent-kin encoiled
          140Among the purple tufts, the scarlet crowns,
          141Scenting the jungle in their refuges,
          142So streaked with yellow, blue and green and red
          143In beak and bud and fruity gobbet-skins,
          144That earth was like a jostling festival
          145Of seeds grown fat, too juicily opulent,
          146Expanding in the gold's maternal warmth.
          147So much for that. The affectionate emigrant found
          148A new reality in parrot-squawks.
          149Yet let that trifle pass. Now, as this odd
          150Discoverer walked through the harbor streets
          151Inspecting the cabildo, the façade
          152Of the cathedral, making notes, he heard
          153A rumbling, west of Mexico, it seemed,
          154Approaching like a gasconade of drums.
          155The white cabildo darkened, the façade,
          156As sullen as the sky, was swallowed up
          157In swift, successive shadows, dolefully.
          158The rumbling broadened as it fell. The wind,
          159Tempestuous clarion, with heavy cry,
          160Came bluntly thundering, more terrible
          161Than the revenge of music on bassoons.
          162Gesticulating lightning, mystical,
          163Made pallid flitter. Crispin, here, took flight.
          164An annotator has his scruples, too.
          165He knelt in the cathedral with the rest,
          166This connoisseur of elemental fate,
          167Aware of exquisite thought. The storm was one
          168Of many proclamations of the kind,
          169Proclaiming something harsher than he learned
          170From hearing signboards whimper in cold nights
          171Or seeing the midsummer artifice
          172Of heat upon his pane. This was the span
          173Of force, the quintessential fact, the note
          174Of Vulcan, that a valet seeks to own,
          175The thing that makes him envious in phrase.

          176And while the torrent on the roof still droned
          177He felt the Andean breath. His mind was free
          178And more than free, elate, intent, profound
          179And studious of a self possessing him,
          180That was not in him in the crusty town
          181From which he sailed. Beyond him, westward, lay
          182The mountainous ridges, purple balustrades,
          183In which the thunder, lapsing in its clap,
          184Let down gigantic quavers of its voice,
          185For Crispin to vociferate again.

III
Approaching Carolina
          186The book of moonlight is not written yet
          187Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room
          188For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire,
          189Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage
          190Through sweating changes, never could forget
          191That wakefulness or meditating sleep,
          192In which the sulky strophes willingly
          193Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs.
          194Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book
          195For the legendary moonlight that once burned
          196In Crispin's mind above a continent.
          197America was always north to him,
          198A northern west or western north, but north,
          199And thereby polar, polar-purple, chilled
          200And lank, rising and slumping from a sea
          201Of hardy foam, receding flatly, spread
          202In endless ledges, glittering, submerged
          203And cold in a boreal mistiness of the moon.
          204The spring came there in clinking pannicles
          205Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came,
          206If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening,
          207Before the winter's vacancy returned.
          208The myrtle, if the myrtle ever bloomed,
          209Was like a glacial pink upon the air.
          210The green palmettoes in crepuscular ice
          211Clipped frigidly blue-black meridians,
          212Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly drawn.

          213How many poems he denied himself
          214In his observant progress, lesser things
          215Than the relentless contact he desired;
          216How many sea-masks he ignored; what sounds
          217He shut out from his tempering ear; what thoughts,
          218Like jades affecting the sequestered bride;
          219And what descants, he sent to banishment!
          220Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave
          221The liaison, the blissful liaison,
          222Between himself and his environment,
          223Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight,
          224For him, and not for him alone. It seemed
          225Elusive, faint, more mist than moon, perverse,
          226Wrong as a divagation to Peking,
          227To him that postulated as his theme
          228The vulgar, as his theme and hymn and flight,
          229A passionately niggling nightingale.
          230Moonlight was an evasion, or, if not,
          231A minor meeting, facile, delicate.

          232Thus he conceived his voyaging to be
          233An up and down between two elements,
          234A fluctuating between sun and moon,
          235A sally into gold and crimson forms,
          236As on this voyage, out of goblinry,
          237And then retirement like a turning back
          238And sinking down to the indulgences
          239That in the moonlight have their habitude.
          240But let these backward lapses, if they would,
          241Grind their seductions on him, Crispin knew
          242It was a flourishing tropic he required
          243For his refreshment, an abundant zone,
          244Prickly and obdurate, dense, harmonious
          245Yet with a harmony not rarefied
          246Nor fined for the inhibited instruments
          247Of over-civil stops. And thus he tossed
          248Between a Carolina of old time,
          249A little juvenile, an ancient whim,
          250And the visible, circumspect presentment drawn
          251From what he saw across his vessel's prow.

          252He came. The poetic hero without palms
          253Or jugglery, without regalia.
          254And as he came he saw that it was spring,
          255A time abhorrent to the nihilist
          256Or searcher for the fecund minimum.
          257The moonlight fiction disappeared. The spring,
          258Although contending featly in its veils,
          259Irised in dew and early fragrancies,
          260Was gemmy marionette to him that sought
          261A sinewy nakedness. A river bore
          262The vessel inward. Tilting up his nose,
          263He inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells
          264Of dampened lumber, emanations blown
          265From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes,
          266Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks
          267That helped him round his rude aesthetic out.
          268He savored rankness like a sensualist.
          269He marked the marshy ground around the dock,
          270The crawling railroad spur, the rotten fence,
          271Curriculum for the marvellous sophomore.
          272It purified. It made him see how much
          273Of what he saw he never saw at all.
          274He gripped more closely the essential prose
          275As being, in a world so falsified,
          276The one integrity for him, the one
          277Discovery still possible to make,
          278To which all poems were incident, unless
          279That prose should wear a poem's guise at last.

IV
The Idea of a Colony
          280Nota: his soil is man's intelligence.
          281That's better. That's worth crossing seas to find.
          282Crispin in one laconic phrase laid bare
          283His cloudy drift and planned a colony.
          284Exit the mental moonlight, exit lex,
          285Rex and principium, exit the whole
          286Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose
          287More exquisite than any tumbling verse:
          288A still new continent in which to dwell.
          289What was the purpose of his pilgrimage,
          290Whatever shape it took in Crispin's mind,
          291If not, when all is said, to drive away
          292The shadow of his fellows from the skies,
          293And, from their stale intelligence released,
          294To make a new intelligence prevail?
          295Hence the reverberations in the words
          296Of his first central hymns, the celebrants
          297Of rankest trivia, tests of the strength
          298Of his aesthetic, his philosophy,
          299The more invidious, the more desired.
          300The florist asking aid from cabbages,
          301The rich man going bare, the paladin
          302Afraid, the blind man as astronomer,
          303The appointed power unwielded from disdain.
          304His western voyage ended and began.
          305The torment of fastidious thought grew slack,
          306Another, still more bellicose, came on.
          307He, therefore, wrote his prolegomena,
          308And, being full of the caprice, inscribed
          309Commingled souvenirs and prophecies.
          310He made a singular collation. Thus:
          311The natives of the rain are rainy men.
          312Although they paint effulgent, azure lakes,
          313And April hillsides wooded white and pink,
          314Their azure has a cloudy edge, their white
          315And pink, the water bright that dogwood bears.
          316And in their music showering sounds intone.
          317On what strange froth does the gross Indian dote,
          318What Eden sapling gum, what honeyed gore,
          319What pulpy dram distilled of innocence,
          320That streaking gold should speak in him
          321Or bask within his images and words?
          322If these rude instances impeach themselves
          323By force of rudeness, let the principle
          324Be plain. For application Crispin strove,
          325Abhorring Turk as Esquimau, the lute
          326As the marimba, the magnolia as rose.

          327Upon these premises propounding, he
          328Projected a colony that should extend
          329To the dusk of a whistling south below the south.
          330A comprehensive island hemisphere.
          331The man in Georgia waking among pines
          332Should be pine-spokesman. The responsive man,
          333Planting his pristine cores in Florida,
          334Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery,
          335But on the banjo's categorical gut,
          336Tuck tuck, while the flamingos flapped his bays.
          337Sepulchral señors, bibbing pale mescal,
          338Oblivious to the Aztec almanacs,
          339Should make the intricate Sierra scan.
          340And dark Brazilians in their cafés,
          341Musing immaculate, pampean dits,
          342Should scrawl a vigilant anthology,
          343To be their latest, lucent paramour.
          344These are the broadest instances. Crispin,
          345Progenitor of such extensive scope,
          346Was not indifferent to smart detail.
          347The melon should have apposite ritual,
          348Performed in verd apparel, and the peach,
          349When its black branches came to bud, belle day,
          350Should have an incantation. And again,
          351When piled on salvers its aroma steeped
          352The summer, it should have a sacrament
          353And celebration. Shrewd novitiates
          354Should be the clerks of our experience.

          355These bland excursions into time to come,
          356Related in romance to backward flights,
          357However prodigal, however proud,
          358Contained in their afflatus the reproach
          359That first drove Crispin to his wandering.
          360He could not be content with counterfeit,
          361With masquerade of thought, with hapless words
          362That must belie the racking masquerade,
          363With fictive flourishes that preordained
          364His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree
          365Of buttons, measure of his salt. Such trash
          366Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly.
          367It irked beyond his patience. Hence it was,
          368Preferring text to gloss, he humbly served
          369Grotesque apprenticeship to chance event,
          370A clown, perhaps, but an aspiring clown.
          371There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams
          372That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs
          373Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not
          374The oncoming fantasies of better birth.
          375The apprentice knew these dreamers. If he dreamed
          376Their dreams, he did it in a gingerly way.
          377All dreams are vexing. Let them be expunged.
          378But let the rabbit run, the cock declaim.

          379Trinket pasticcio, flaunting skyey sheets,
          380With Crispin as the tiptoe cozener?
          381No, no: veracious page on page, exact.

V
A Nice Shady Home
          382Crispin as hermit, pure and capable,
          383Dwelt in the land. Perhaps if discontent
          384Had kept him still the pricking realist,
          385Choosing his element from droll confect
          386Of was and is and shall or ought to be,
          387Beyond Bordeaux, beyond Havana, far
          388Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come
          389To colonize his polar planterdom
          390And jig his chits upon a cloudy knee.
          391But his emprize to that idea soon sped.
          392Crispin dwelt in the land and dwelling there
          393Slid from his continent by slow recess
          394To things within his actual eye, alert
          395To the difficulty of rebellious thought
          396When the sky is blue. The blue infected will.
          397It may be that the yarrow in his fields
          398Sealed pensive purple under its concern.
          399But day by day, now this thing and now that
          400Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned,
          401Little by little, as if the suzerain soil
          402Abashed him by carouse to humble yet
          403Attach. It seemed haphazard denouement.
          404He first, as realist, admitted that
          405Whoever hunts a matinal continent
          406May, after all, stop short before a plum
          407And be content and still be realist.
          408The words of things entangle and confuse.
          409The plum survives its poems. It may hang
          410In the sunshine placidly, colored by ground
          411Obliquities of those who pass beneath,
          412Harlequined and mazily dewed and mauved
          413In bloom. Yet it survives in its own form,
          414Beyond these changes, good, fat, guzzly fruit.
          415So Crispin hasped on the surviving form,
          416For him, of shall or ought to be in is.

          417Was he to bray this in profoundest brass
          418Arointing his dreams with fugal requiems?
          419Was he to company vastest things defunct
          420With a blubber of tom-toms harrowing the sky?
          421Scrawl a tragedian's testament? Prolong
          422His active force in an inactive dirge,
          423Which, let the tall musicians call and call,
          424Should merely call him dead? Pronounce amen
          425Through choirs infolded to the outmost clouds?
          426Because he built a cabin who once planned
          427Loquacious columns by the ructive sea?
          428Because he turned to salad-beds again?
          429Jovial Crispin, in calamitous crape?
          430Should he lay by the personal and make
          431Of his own fate an instance of all fate?
          432What is one man among so many men?
          433What are so many men in such a world?
          434Can one man think one thing and think it long?
          435Can one man be one thing and be it long?
          436The very man despising honest quilts
          437Lies quilted to his poll in his despite.
          438For realists, what is is what should be.
          439And so it came, his cabin shuffled up,
          440His trees were planted, his duenna brought
          441Her prismy blonde and clapped her in his hands,
          442The curtains flittered and the door was closed.
          443Crispin, magister of a single room,
          444Latched up the night. So deep a sound fell down
          445It was as if the solitude concealed
          446And covered him and his congenial sleep.
          447So deep a sound fell down it grew to be
          448A long soothsaying silence down and down.
          449The crickets beat their tambours in the wind,
          450Marching a motionless march, custodians.

          451In the presto of the morning, Crispin trod,
          452Each day, still curious, but in a round
          453Less prickly and much more condign than that
          454He once thought necessary. Like Candide,
          455Yeoman and grub, but with a fig in sight,
          456And cream for the fig and silver for the cream,
          457A blonde to tip the silver and to taste
          458The rapey gouts. Good star, how that to be
          459Annealed them in their cabin ribaldries!
          460Yet the quotidian saps philosophers
          461And men like Crispin like them in intent,
          462If not in will, to track the knaves of thought.
          463But the quotidian composed as his,
          464Of breakfast ribands, fruits laid in their leaves,
          465The tomtit and the cassia and the rose,
          466Although the rose was not the noble thorn
          467Of crinoline spread, but of a pining sweet,
          468Composed of evenings like cracked shutters flung
          469Upon the rumpling bottomness, and nights
          470In which those frail custodians watched,
          471Indifferent to the tepid summer cold,
          472While he poured out upon the lips of her
          473That lay beside him, the quotidian
          474Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner.
          475For all it takes it gives a humped return
          476Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed.

VI
And Daughters with Curls
          477Portentous enunciation, syllable
          478To blessed syllable affined, and sound
          479Bubbling felicity in cantilene,
          480Prolific and tormenting tenderness
          481Of music, as it comes to unison,
          482Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last
          483Deduction. Thrum, with a proud douceur
          484His grand pronunciamento and devise.

          485The chits came for his jigging, bluet-eyed,
          486Hands without touch yet touching poignantly,
          487Leaving no room upon his cloudy knee,
          488Prophetic joint, for its diviner young.
          489The return to social nature, once begun,
          490Anabasis or slump, ascent or chute,
          491Involved him in midwifery so dense
          492His cabin counted as phylactery,
          493Then place of vexing palankeens, then haunt
          494Of children nibbling at the sugared void,
          495Infants yet eminently old, then dome
          496And halidom for the unbraided femes,
          497Green crammers of the green fruits of the world,
          498Bidders and biders for its ecstasies,
          499True daughters both of Crispin and his clay.
          500All this with many mulctings of the man,
          501Effective colonizer sharply stopped
          502In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom.
          503But that this bloom grown riper, showing nibs
          504Of its eventual roundness, puerile tints
          505Of spiced and weathery rouges, should complex
          506The stopper to indulgent fatalist
          507Was unforeseen. First Crispin smiled upon
          508His goldenest demoiselle, inhabitant,
          509She seemed, of a country of the capuchins,
          510So delicately blushed, so humbly eyed,
          511Attentive to a coronal of things
          512Secret and singular. Second, upon
          513A second similar counterpart, a maid
          514Most sisterly to the first, not yet awake
          515Excepting to the motherly footstep, but
          516Marvelling sometimes at the shaken sleep.
          517Then third, a thing still flaxen in the light,
          518A creeper under jaunty leaves. And fourth,
          519Mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified,
          520All din and gobble, blasphemously pink.
          521A few years more and the vermeil capuchin
          522Gave to the cabin, lordlier than it was,
          523The dulcet omen fit for such a house.
          524The second sister dallying was shy
          525To fetch the one full-pinioned one himself
          526Out of her botches, hot embosomer.
          527The third one gaping at the orioles
          528Lettered herself demurely as became
          529A pearly poetess, peaked for rhapsody.
          530The fourth, pent now, a digit curious.
          531Four daughters in a world too intricate
          532In the beginning, four blithe instruments
          533Of differing struts, four voices several
          534In couch, four more personæ, intimate
          535As buffo, yet divers, four mirrors blue
          536That should be silver, four accustomed seeds
          537Hinting incredible hues, four self-same lights
          538That spread chromatics in hilarious dark,
          539Four questioners and four sure answerers.

          540Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout.
          541The world, a turnip once so readily plucked,
          542Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out
          543Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main,
          544And sown again by the stiffest realist,
          545Came reproduced in purple, family font,
          546The same insoluble lump. The fatalist
          547Stepped in and dropped the chuckling down his craw,
          548Without grace or grumble. Score this anecdote
          549Invented for its pith, not doctrinal
          550In form though in design, as Crispin willed,
          551Disguised pronunciamento, summary,
          552Autumn's compendium, strident in itself
          553But muted, mused, and perfectly revolved
          554In those portentous accents, syllables,
          555And sounds of music coming to accord
          556Upon his law, like their inherent sphere,
          557Seraphic proclamations of the pure
          558Delivered with a deluging onwardness.
          559Or if the music sticks, if the anecdote
          560Is false, if Crispin is a profitless
          561Philosopher, beginning with green brag,
          562Concluding fadedly, if as a man
          563Prone to distemper he abates in taste,
          564Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure,
          565Glozing his life with after-shining flicks,
          566Illuminating, from a fancy gorged
          567By apparition, plain and common things,
          568Sequestering the fluster from the year,
          569Making gulped potions from obstreperous drops,
          570And so distorting, proving what he proves
          571Is nothing, what can all this matter since
          572The relation comes, benignly, to its end?

          573So may the relation of each man be clipped.

Notes

1] Title: by the letter C, Stevens confided to friends in letters that he meant the comic sound of that consonant, broadly understood as k, ts, x, and z as well as c. Stevens compared the noise to the crickets that followed St. Francis, whose order of friars is mentioned in the poem, and illustrates by citing lines 476 and 479 (Letters, 293-94, 351-52, 778). Stevens means to have fun with Crispin. Although a poet, Crispin has four daughters, unlike Stevens (who at the time of the poem's composition had no children). It would be misleading to represent this comic epic as seriously autobiographical.
Nota: make a note (Latin).

2] Socrates: Greek philosopher, Plato's teacher, executed by poisoning in 399 BC.

3] principium: beginning (Latin).

4] lex: law (Latin).
Sed quaeritur: but it is asked (Latin).

5] nincompated: neologism (not in the Oxford English Dictionary), possibly a fusion of `nincompoop'("fool") and `pate' ("head") meaning "foolish-headed. "Stevens used dictionaries heavily at this time (Brazeau, Parts of a World: 40, 68).

6] Preceptor: teacher, school principal.

8] gelatines: jellies.
jupes: women's skirts or bodices.

13] silentious: taciturn.

14] Dibbled: made holes.
mustachios: large mustaches.

16] paté: mashed spicy meat spread.
quotha: said he.

18] hibernal: winter.

22] thane: feudal lord (old-fashioned).

24-25] haw Of hum: someone humming and hawing, that is, hesitating over words but preventing interruption by uttering meaningless noises.

27] greenhorns: novices.

31] shanks: legs.
brunt: ruckus.

35] Ubiquitous: ever-present.

36] Polyphony: voices singing different melodies simultaneously.
baton: orchestra conductor's wand.

39] Triton: half-fish, half-man, the son of the sea-god Poseidon and Amphitrite.
diaphanes: see-through forms.

54] Bordeaux: southwest French city on the Garonne river.
Yucantan: peninsula extending across southeast Mexico and central America.
Havana: capital city of Cuba.

55] Carolina: city in Puerto Rico.

56] minuscule: script with small letter-forms.

64] parasols: umbrellas.

69] ding an sich: the thing in itself.

85] panoply: impressive garb.

87] caparison: rich trappings, often head-gear.

90] Maya: ancient Amerindian people.

92] toucan: colourful large beaked bird of Central and South Americas.

94] tanagers: American passerine birds.

104] demesne: possession (legal term).

111] vicissitudes: changes in circumstances, good or bad.

113] rucks: undistinguished gatherings.

122] indigenous: native.

126] promenade: stroll.

132] yuccas: woody, white-flowered lily-like plants.

135] coign: corner.

136] catechize: pose questions testing dogma.

143] gobbet: lump.

151] cabildo: town hall or church chapterhouse.

154] gasconade: bravado.

163] flitter: rapid to-and-fro motion.

172] pane: window-pane.

174] Vulcan: lame cuckolded husband of Venus, and the Roman god of fire and blacksmithy.

177] Andean: of the Andes, a mountain chain splitting South America east and west.

178] elate: exhilarated.

182] balustrades: elegant supports in a row.

184] quavers: trills.

188] fagot: bundle of sticks or kindling.

192] strophes: parts of a Greek ode sung when the chorus turns from one side of the orchestra to the other.

203] boreal: northern.

204] pannicles: flower clusters shaped like little Christmas trees.

210] palmettoes: cabbage palmettos, native to the south-eastern USA.
crepuscular: twilight-like.

211] meridians: circles (astronomical, terrestrial).

212] chiaroscuro: picture of blended light and shade.

218] jades: ladies of no reputation.

219] descants: contrapuntal melodies, chanted above the main theme.

226] divagation: unplanned side-trip.
Peking: Beijing, China.

235] sally: excursion.

239] have their habitude: are usually found.

244] obdurate: stubborn.

246] fined: ourified.

247] stops: knobs on a musical instrument for adjusting pitch (and also stay-overs on a trip).

256] fecund: fruitful.

258] featly: adroitly.

259] Irised: showing rainbow-like.

263] rosin: resin, a secretion from pinewood.

264] emanations: emissions.

266] arrant: outright.

270] spur: branch of railway line.

285] Rex and principium: king and founder.

286] Shebang: bunch.

299] invidious: envious, obnoxious.

301] paladin: princely courtier-warrior.

306] bellicose: warlike.

310] collation: light meal, collection.

312] effulgent: brilliant.
azure: light or sky blue.

315] dogwood: woody flowering shrub.

325] Esquimau: eskimo.

326] marimba: xylophone (a row of wooden bars struck by hand with small hammers).
magnolia: showy spring flower.

333] cores: fruit-seeds.

334] psaltery: Biblical stringed musical instrument associated with King David.

336] bays: laurels, awarded for victory.

337] bibbling: drinking.
mescal: Mexican liquor distilled from maguey plants.

338] Aztec: ancient Amerindian people.

339] Sierra: (southern) mountain ranges.

341] pampean dits: ditties (poems) of the South American grassy plains.

343] lucent: bathed in light.

348] verd: green.

349] belle: beautiful.

351] salvers: food-trays.

354] clerks: secretaries.

358] afflatus: divine breathing into (someone).

362] racking: torturous.

379] pasticcio: pastiche, imitative hodgepodge.

380] cozener: cheat.

385] droll confect: amusing sweetmeat.

388] carked: troubled.

390] jig his chits: bounce his little girls.

391] emprize: venture.

397] yarrow: white-flowered herb.

400] cosseted: pampered.

401] suzerain: soveraign.

403] denouement: ending.

405] matinal: early morning.

411] Obliquities: muddled thoughts.

412] Harlequined: played comically in pantomime.
mazily: in a winding, confused way.
mauved: made purple.

414] guzzly: possibly a neologism (not in the Oxford English Dictionary), eagerly guzzled down.

415] hasped: fastened.

418] Arointing: dismissing.
fugal requiems: dirges or chants for the dead, in the manner of a fugue, a contrapuntal weaving of repeated motifs.

420] blubber: weeping.

427] Loquacious: chatty.
ructive: possibly a neologism (not in the Oxford English Dictionary), perhaps belching or violent.

429] crape: crepe, a mourning band worn on sleave or elsewhere.

437] poll: head.

439] shuffled up: confusedly made up.

440] duenna: ancient governess or chaperon.

441] prismy: like a prism, refracting light into its constituent colours.

451] presto: bustle (a rapid musical tempo).

453] condign: decent.

454] Candide: the hero of Voltaire's satire of the same name (1759).

458] rapey: possibly like a rope.

459] Annealed: toughened by heating and cooling.

460] quotidian: daily routine.

465] tomtit: little bird.
cassia: herb.

467] crinoline: stiff horsehair or linen fabric.

476] Exchequering: managing state revenue.
piebald: multicoloured.
fiscs: state treasuries.
unkeyed: unentered? not typed in?

478] affined: connected.

479] cantilene: old song.

483] Thrum: strum, pluck the strings of.
douceur: sweetness.

484] pronunciamento and devise: (Spanish) manifesto and opinion (or heraldic design and motto).

485] bluet-eyed: like the American flower of that name.

490] Anabasis: march.

492] phylactery: little container filled with pieces of scripture and worn by Jewish men during prayers.

493] palankeens: covered litters used in India, palanquins.

496] halidom: sacred land.
femes: wives (legal term).

500] mulctings: fines (also frauds).

505] rouges: reds.

508] demoiselle: young lady.

509] capuchins: order of friars of St. Francis of Assisi.

511] coronal: crown or circlet.

519] gewgaws: bright trinkets.

520] din and gobble: noise and feeding.

521] vermeil: vermilion.

525] full-pinioned: with a full wing-spread.

526] botches: messes.
embosomer: possibly a neologism (not in the Oxford English Dictionary), a bosom-companion?

530] pent: shut up.
digit: little thing (finger, toe).

533] struts: upright, somewhat rigid bearings.

534] In couch: bed or sofa?

535] buffo: opera clown.

538] chromatics: highly coloured lights.

540] rout: crowd, hullabaloo.

542] daubed: smeared.

543] main: sea.

547] craw: throat.

549] pith: essential meaning.

552] compendium: encyclopedia.

565] Glozing: gleaming (and glossing).
flicks: strokes.

568] fluster: agitation.

569] obstreperous: unruly.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Harmonium (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, [September 7], 1923): 45-69. York University Library Special Collections 734
First publication date: 1923
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/14

Composition date: 1921 - 1922
Composition date note: (Richardson, I, 513-18)
Form note: unrhymed (mainly) pentameter


Other poems by Wallace Stevens