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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May 16, 2005


I grew up in the Reading area during the 1970s. I remember (fondly, mostly) Berks County as a place where sublime natural beauty, conformist middle-class monotony, and the anachronistically exotic all came together - and I think I can see all of these aspects reflected (in different places and in different ways) in Stevens' poetry. During my childhood, it was still quite common to see businessmen sharing the road with an Amish horse and buggy, and I can remember sitting in my best friend's kitchen, listening to his grandfather speaking Pennsylvania Dutch on the telephone (when the old man wasn't watching roller derby on television, or selling homegrown corn at his roadside stand). Although Stevens was pretty much gone from the area by the time it was being built in 1907, I think the poet must have been especially amused by the construction of Reading's famous Pagoda, a thoroughly out-of-place piece of Orientalism overlooking the thoroughly Occidental city.

hi mark, thanks for your comment. Yes, I left se penna for a few years after high school, returning at age 21 to be absolutely amazed at how overwhelmingly beautiful it was! This was after time spent in New england and California. I felt like I could bask in pennsylvania's beauty for the rest of my life!

I've never seen the Reading pagoda, but I guess it was a symptom of the 'orientalism' prevalent around the turn of the century. It's interesting to trace that interface (east and west) back through time, and i'm still interested in that conversation.

By the way, love your site, and have blog-rolled you as 'daily poetry journal' (rather than buddha-rat, since i don't like the word 'rat.' i have no better, nor more closely reasoned defense than that!) I look forward to checking in regularly.

Thanks for this tribute to my almost-native state. My mother's people were from SE PA (Mahanoy City and Pottstown), my father's people from the old Connecticut portion of NE PA, from around Harvey's Lake. When my family moved back to central PA in 1971 after five years in rural Maine, my mother (the nature writer Marcia Bonta) said that it felt like a homecoming, because her father used to take his kids on long drives through SE PA when they were kids, back in the 40s and 50s, to visit all the relatives. Now, I'm afraid, that part of the state is so built up and New Jerseyfied than many eastern Pennsylvanians are relocating to the middle and western parts of the state. Although the population isn't growing, we have an astronomical rate of sprawl.

Pierce Lewis, a well-known geographer at Penn State, has written in detail about the various things that make Pennsylvania distinctive, including our lack of a strong state identity (we're at the opposite end of the jingoism scale from Texas) and our tendency to stay put. Pennsylvanians who do move away often move back after retirement. We were the center of diffusion for such cultural innovations as the log cabin and split-rail fence (both developed by ethnic Finns in the short-lived Swedish colony), the bank barn with forebay, and the main-street-centered (i.e. in lieu of a town square) city plan. We gave America the first rednecks, the endemic suspicion toward politicians and public service, and the ideology that says that "the business of America is business." But then there were all those religious radicals...

Right, Pennsylvania did have a few religious communities, didn't it?

Thanks for your comment, Dave. I learned a few things about Pennsylvania. Can't believe the degree of nostalgia I feel for PA as I read through the Wallace Stevens material.

I didn't even know he was from Pennsylvania when I started this blog!

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