In the sea, Biscayne, there prinks
The young emerald, evening star,
Good light for drunkards, poets, widows,
And ladies soon to be married.
By this light the salty fishes
Arch in the sea like tree-branches,
Going in many directions
Up and down.
This light conducts
The thoughts of drunkards, the feelings
Of widows and trembling ladies,
The movements of fishes.
How pleasant an existence it is
That this emerald charms philosophers,
Until they become thoughtlessly willing
To bathe their hearts in later moonlight,
Knowing that they can bring back thought
In the night that is still to be silent,
Reflecting this thing and that,
Before they sleep!
It is better that, as scholars,
They should think hard in the dark cuffs
Of voluminous cloaks,
And shave their heads and bodies.
It might well be that their mistress
Is no gaunt fugitive phantom.
She might, after all, be a wanton,
Abundantly beautiful, eager,
From whose being by starlight, on sea-coast,
The innermost good of their seeking
Might come in the simplest of speech.
It is a good light, then, for those
That know the ultimate Plato,
Tranquilizing with the jewel
The torments of confusion.
(from, Stevens, Collected Poetry & Prose, 20-21)
* * * * *
Another poem about the role of imagination, of the value of the faculty that connects us to the Pure Ideas, the perfect order beyond this world. Who is living in that realm? ‘drunkards, poets, widows/and ladies soon to be married.’
A lovely poem. with lines like those of Pablo Neruda: “By this light the salty fishes/Arch in the sea like tree-brances,/Going in many directions/ Up and down.”
The philosophers may be 'scholars,' may be ascetics with 'shave(d) heads and bodies,' but thought itself, the subject of philosophers, may be far more feminine, more 'fecund,' more amply giving than they expect. The best philosophers know the 'ultimate Plato,' that all ideas, all thoughts, are mediated by the imagination. The calm of the ultimate order of the Ideas is 'tranquilizing' to the confused mind. As a former theologian, I know that religion, with its calming and ordering effects, is also based in imagination.
A homunculus is (according to www.dictionary.com)
- A miniature, fully formed individual believed by adherents of the early biological theory of preformation to be present in the sperm cell.
Stevens may have used this word for its humorous effect juxtaposed with the elegant French 'la belle etoile,' the beautiful star. The 'emerald evening star' is Venus. The homunculus is, jocosely, Stevens, and was a pre-scientific concept, back when chemistry was alchemy. An alternate title might have been "The poet and his inspiring star," with star as Muse. But Stevens is far less prosaic.
Can't you just imagine the contemplative younger Wallace Stevens "in the night that is still to be silent,/reflecting this thing and that,/before they sleep!" ? A very intimate moment in poetry.