This is typical of the kind of Song dynasty picture recreated poetically in the poem, and may even be one of the pictures Stevens saw. It is from a book of chinese art in my own collection.
A few excerpts from an article in the Wallace Stevens Journal, 21:2, Fall 1997, pp.123-142, Chinese Landscape Painting in Stevens' 'Six Significant Landscapes' by Zhaoming Qian. I think this article is quite interesting, and helps me to understand the other three poems he mentions in the opening paragraph. Stevens was drawing a Song dynasty picture in words. I only wish I could include the entire article by Qian here.
Qian writes that this poem is an example of "ekphrasis, defined as 'the verbal representation of visual representation,' (a) genre whose central goal is the 'overcoming of otherness, ' that is, 'those rival modes of representation called the visual, graphic, plastic or 'spatial' arts.' [In this poem, and in three others - Anecdote of the Jar, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Le Monocle de Mon Oncle] what Stevens seeks to explore includes not only passage to the other genre (the visual) but also passage to the other age (the past) and the other culture (the Orient). His endeaveor to cross genre, age, and culture at the same time is best exemplified by section I of 'Six Significant Landscapes,' a verbalized depiction of Song Chinese landscape painting."
"The poem, like the Chinese painting it represents, portrays a single impression: consciousness of the unity of all created things, mak(ing) a complex statement on the paradox of permanence within change."
Stevens "copied out (a little landscape poem, by the Song poet Wang Anshi) for his fiancee Elsie on 18 March 1909 -- 'It is midnight; all is silent in the house; the water-clock has stopped. But I am unable to sleep because of the beauty of the trembling shapes of the spring-flowers, thrown by the moon upon the blind.' He remarked, ' Curious thing, how little we know about Asia, and all that. It makes me wild to learn it all in a night.'"
"Litz aptly notes, the first five sections are all meant to mock 'those habits of mind and language which screen us away from new perceptions of things as they are.' Binyon, in Painting in the Far East, observes that '(the Song artist) insists on [the far-off effect] as necessary to unity, (he) must build on observation, seize essentials and discard the trivial.' "
"Fenollosa [wrote], 'It proves to us what an integral part landscape had come to play in Chinese culture and imagination; and it shows us just why the Zen [Chan] symbolism of nature gave such a splendid insight into characteristic forms.' The aim of landscape painters, according to him, is to enable those who wish to to 'enjoy a life amidst the luxuries of nature' but 'are debarred from indulging in such pleasures' to 'behold the grandeur of nature without stepping out of their houses.' The passage seemed to be directly addressed to Stevens, who like the Song artist had always preferred a solitary life in nature and who had always wanted to be able to portray the atmosphere and spirit of nature in his own art. (The author quotes a passage from The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain, and mentions a gift scroll Stevens received from a Korean protege.)" In fact, Stevens loved 'the luxuries of nature' (the great outdoors), but necessity forced him and Elsie to live a more burgherly existence. I love the following passage, because it sums up so much of Stevens, the man:
"He was to remark of the delightful gift: 'It represents my ideal of a happy life: to be able to grow old and fat and lie outdoors under the trees thinking about people and things and things and people.'"