WS Quote

  • "Compare the silent rose of the sun. And rain, the blood-rose living in its smell, With this paper, this dust. That states the point." ~ Wallace Stevens


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September 08, 2004


in a journal entry from Souvenirs and Prophecies, Stevens remarks on an outing with two friends, Shearer and Mengel, who are identifying butterfies. He admires their scientific observation of nature, so different from his own imaginative approach. In a later WS listserv entry, it is noted that the greek word, ‘psyche’ is used in that language to designate both the ‘soul’ and the ‘butterfly.’ Also, the Aphrodite Fritillary is sometimes referred to as the Paphian Queen. Stevens may have run across this in a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Dilemna, published in the Yale Book of American Verse (1912), which begins: “Now, by the blessed Paphian queen/Who heaves the breast of sweet sixteen…”
The swan is also associated with the soul in various traditions; in the Hindu tradition, the paramahamsa, or supreme swan, is the thought of God. The swan is the vehicle of Saraswati, goddess of poetry, too. All make for interesting evidence of WS' supreme consistency within this poem.

He admires their scientific observation of nature, so different from his own imaginative approach.

i really like descriptive poetry. but it is quite hard to fit the feeling in those words.

I was reading "Invective Against Swans" this morning, and found the imagery vivid but it's meaning abstruse. I thus set out for some internet assistance in an interpretation. I immediately found two, this one and another at Wikipedia. This one here takes approach that the poem is literally about swans, and what they indicate. The interpretation at Wikipedia persuasively presents the point of view that Wallace is talking about the reliance of the poetry of a previous generation on idealized use of references to nature, which don't truly reflect what the soul endures. In either case, it's a great way to start the day, this contemplating poetry.

Really your post is really very good and I appreciate it. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it. You write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your post.

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