“The Idea of Order at Key West”
In this poem Stevens takes up the concepts of perception of the natural world as a means of instituting the calming effect of seeing order where in reality only chaos exists. Poetry becomes the literary equivalent by placating the fear of living in a random universe through the application of poetic facilitation of meaning.
“Of Modern Poetry”
The search for significance is the thematic thrust of this poem in which Stevens suggests that one’s significance in the modern world is directly linked to one’s capacity for imagining. To be content with one’s place in the universe requires an understanding of the interplay between reality and the fantasy world one can create out of that reality.
“Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock”
An almost iconic and definitive poem of Wallace Stevens that looks for the aesthetic mysteries in the banalities of modern life. Ultimately, what passes for the conventions and traditions blindly accepted as the natural constituencies of middle class life are cast with an aspersive eyes toward the suspicion that they may actually be contributing to death of existence.
A register of a woman’s trek toward spiritual actualization that takes the form of a dialogue with the persona of Stevens as a sort of poetic guide. The focus of the dialogue is a ping-pong back and forth between pagan belief and the undercurrent of Christian belief which runs counter to those beliefs while also illuminating the spiritual ties between them. The beauty of the natural world is sharply contrasted and often undercut by the intransigence which obstructs the prolonging of the enjoyment of that beauty. Ultimately, the dialogue reaches the spirit of compromise over the agreement that death actually serves to enhance the natural beauty of a thing.
“The Comedian as the Letter C”
In which the devastating power of Mt. Vesuvius is personified as the alternative to the living a life of easy comfort without attempting to expand outward beyond the boundaries of a throttled imagination.
“Anecdote of the Jar”
The anecdote is simplistically about a very plain jar, but the poem skyrockets into the stratosphere of potential analysis and deconstruction by virtue of its inventive experimentation with language and the creative interplay between the elevated thematic potential and the almost Seuss-like fun of the composition. This is a poem that is at once immediately—almost universally—accessible as it hides layers and layers of hidden meanings and extraordinary possibilities.
“Le Monocle de Mon Oncle”
The monocle on the titular uncle of this dramatic monologue is the mark of what alienates and isolates him from the rest of the world. The monocle is a symbol of Old Word elegance, but also of an aristocratic notion of his place in society and although the tone he takes as his ironic expression is mostly upbeat, ultimately he is revealed as out of touch and more than a little pathetic.
The title of this poem refers to a bottle of wine, but unlike most poetry wasted in the service of trying to convince those who do not find God among the grapes, this particular bottle attains significance worthy of becoming a titular object through the thematic context of being an empty bottle of expensive wine.