Monday, April 6, 2009

1919: "Anecdote of the Jar" by Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

The Author:
Wallace Stevens

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1879, Stevens studied at Harvard from 1897 to 1900. He worked as a journalist, lawyer, then for an insurance company most of his professional life— writing poetry during evenings and spare time. His most famous poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” was first published in 1917.

Concerning his professional role and limited time to write poetry, Stevens says: “it gives a man character to have this daily contact with a job.” His first book of poems, Harmonium (1923), did not appear until he was forty four, yet he achieved critical claim for his work.

Discussing his ideas on poetry in The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, Stevens writes, “In the absence of a belief in God, the mind turns to its own creations and examines them, not alone form the aesthetic point of view, but for what they reveal, for what they validate and invalidate.” The poet “creates the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it and … he gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it.”

Stevens died in 1955.

Click here to hear Stevens read his poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," written in 1934.

Stevens, Wallace. “Anecdote of the Jar.” Poets. Org.
Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. New York: Vintage, 1951.

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