I read Selected Poems by Mary Ruefle and the essay "The Relations Between Poetry And Painting" by Wallace Stevens from his essay collection The Necessary Angel recently. I thought I'd place together some of my favorite quotes and see how they collide.
Speaking of Wordsworth's Michael and the line "And never lifted up a single stone" on pages 162/163, Stevens said: "One might say of a lazy workman, 'He's been out there, just loafing, for an hour and never lifted up a single stone,' and no one would htink this greaty poetry...These lines would have no existential value; they would simply call attention to the lazy workman. But the compositional use by Wordsworth of his line makes it something entirely different. These simple words become weighted with the tragedy of the old shepherd, and are saturated with poetry. Their referential importance is slight, for the importance of the action to which they refer is not in the action itself, but in the meaning; and that meaning is borne by the words. Therefore this is a line of great poetry."
From Ruefle's poem "Patient Without an Acre" on page 6:
I can't work, much less love.
Love, there's no mistaking the word
for it: once you've driven the
wild breath in, you'll have
a little glass hammer,
perfectly useless. This,
the flint of all things!
Speaking of the mind's retention of experience on pages 164/165, Stevens' says: "If it merely reconstructed the experience or repeated for us our sensations in the face of it, it would be the memory. What it really does is to use it as material with which it does whatever it wills. This is the typical function of the imagination which always makes use of the familiar to produce the unfamiliar."
From the beginning of Ruefle's "Perfect Reader" on page 63:
I spend all day in my office, reading a poem
by Stevens, pretending I wrote it myself,
which is what happens when someone is lonely
and decides to go shopping and meets another customer
and they buy the same thing. But I come to my senses,
and decide when Stevens wrote the poem he was thinking
of me, the way all my old lovers think of me
whenever they lift their kids or carry the trash,
and standing outside the store I think of them:
Discussing Simone Weil's thoughts on "decreation" on pages 174/175, Stevens says: "She says that decreation is making pass from the created to the uncreated, but that destruction is making pass from the created to nothingness. Modern reality is a reality of decreation, in which our revelations are not the revelations of belief, but the precious portents of our own powers. The greatest truth we could hope to discover, in whichever field we discovered it, is that man's truth is the final resolution of everything."
Ruefle's poem "The Tragic Drama of Joy" on page 95:
Late that night it rained so hard the world
seemed flattened for good.
But the grocer knew the earth had a big gut
and could hold more than enough.
When he went out to receive a shipment of cat food
the stays of his umbrella were bent.
It took some time to fix them and when he got to his shop
the truck had already left.
On a whim he went inside and brought home
a bottle of wine for his wife.
Have you gone crazy? she said. They didn’t uncork it,
but he felt something nonetheless.
That wonderful click his umbrella had made
when it finally opened for good!