it is true that the rivers went nosing like swine,
tugging at banks, until they seemed
bland belly-sounds in somnolent troughs,
that the air was heavy with the breath of these swine,
the breath of turgid summer, and
heavy with thunder's rattapallax,
that the man who erected this cabin, planted
this field, and tended it awhile,
knew not the quirks of imagery,
that the hours of his indolent, arid days,
grotesque with this nosing in banks,
this somnolence and rattapallax,
seemed to suckle themselves on his arid being,
as the swine-like rivers suckled themselves
while they went seaward to the sea-mouths.
(from Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose, p. 62)
* * * * *
I think this poem may have lost some of its pithyness due to the fact that we are so far less an agricultural society than we once were. Stevens is so right about rivers being like hogs nosing into the soil. It's a brilliant animalization of nature. Also, it is so Pennsylvania...'the breath of turgid summer, and / heavy with thunder's rattapallax.' He is here writing about a season that is very far removed from our present season, but anyone who has sweltered through a southeastern Pennsylvania summer knows whereof I speak.
Also, it's a guy poem: writing about rivers as 'swine,' noticing the chain of comestibles, and using it ironically as poetry. (I'm sure there is some kind of technical word for this kind of humor.) Anyway: the 'virile poet' puts in an appearance here. Interesting how some of the great modern poets worried about their masculine image: Stevens and Neruda mention it rather a lot, at any rate. But I don't wish to stray into gender issues.
It's a very fun poem, even today, and it must have been 'shocking' in its day: mentioning the chain of predation in a poem! Comparing rivers to swine, shocking, simply shocking!says church-lady. Is 'rattapallax' really a word? I'll have to check it out. Summer thunder in PA is something to invent wonderful words for: 'rattapallax' will do.