Six Significant Landscapes
An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
The night is of the colour
Of a woman’s arm:
Night, the female,
Fragrant and supple,
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.
I measure myself
Against a tall tree.
I find that I am much taller,
For I reach right up to the sun,
With my eye;
And I reach to the shore of the sea
With my ear.
Nevertheless, I dislike
The way ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.
When my dream was near the moon,
The white folds of its gown
Filled with yellow light.
The soles of its feet
Its hair filled
With certain blue crystallizations
Not far off.
Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon
Rationalists would wear sombreros.
I quite like this one. Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.
As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts. Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism. Make it new and strip it down.
Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.
I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
One might ask what kind of genius? Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical? Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least. They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.
Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.
The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization. The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).
At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.
But, this is also having some downstream effects, at least in German theory: Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
The first modern?
“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”
See Also On This Site: Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.