when the elephant's-ear in the park
shrivelled in frost,
and the leaves on the paths
ran like rats,
your lamp-light fell
on shining pillows,
of sea-shades and sky-shades,
like umbrellas in Java.
* * * * *
Who is Stevens visiting here for 'tea?' Escaping the ominous portents of the onset of winter, he finds a safe haven of penultimate intimacy where the charm and comfort of 'lamp-light' effortlessly falls on 'shining pillows' whose very shining promises - what? dreams, sexual pleasures or simply the colors and terrain of the imagination - 'sea-shades and sky-shades,/like umbrellas in Java.' The fact that we are interested in 'pillows' implies that this haven is for the head, so the imagination is favored as a referent, and the others are simply associate experiences that may enrich or even merely echo the pre-eminent Imagination for Stevens.
The word-music is present here too. 'Umbrellas' has a wonderfully feminine sound to it, recollective of floral forms, such an 'umbels,' as well as being resonant with 'umbra' (shade, that poetically important phenomenon for stevens), both joined together here with the ever-feminine 'ella.' The word 'Java' too, exotic in its connotations, is, simply as a sound, both beautiful and satisfying for English-speakers. We wish we had something more proprietary for this sound to mean, and so we've appropriated it for our 'java script,' and we use it to refer to our pedestrian and daily coffee, which also promises us oh-so-much more. 'Java' sounds like 'Jazz,' another intriguing word full of the promise of secrets and revelations, but the final syllable, 'va' carries us away to new horizons.
i've indulged a life-long amateur interest in sounds - obviously or at least not surprisingly i write poetry too - and I hypothesize that the sound 'ja' or anything with the 'j' sound relates to the jaw and to eating. 'Va' as a sanskrit syllable is always related to movement, travelling, and is the root of our english words 'vehicle, vacate, vacation, vacant, etc.' 'Umbrellas in Java' is so soft as a sound-phrase, so full of movement, with its connotations of soft yet powerful southerly trade-winds, yet it's all about an inner movement, a movement towards the Imagination and an intimacy to be found within ourselves.