Reflect on an experience or an idea that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (250 words)
I approach Wallace Stevens’ poetry with frightful bewilderment, occasional terror, and a sense of ambitious delight—much like how the Macbeths approached the murder of King Duncan.
Stevens was my first “difficult” poet. For fourteen years, I’d thought I “got” poetry. Occasionally, I was tripped up by a sonnet or a tricky Keatsian ode; but I thought of poetry as fundamentally within my grasp, lucid if not always easy.
Stevens, by contrast, was so baffling that I wrote off “Sunday Morning” as arrant rubbish—lovely-sounding rubbish, but rubbish nonetheless. What did any of it mean? I asked, as I turned to the available scholarship—Helen Vendler’s On Extended Wings—only to find it as dense and forbidding as the poem itself. And so it goes. . . .
“Sunday Morning” was the first poem where I had to work at it to enjoy it. Stevens required complete concentration—and most importantly, a willingness to be comfortable with only partial understanding. Questions linger even after the sixth close reading. (What is the “firecat” in “Earthy Anecdote”?) But it was the difficulty that made him so exciting a poet; the heady feeling of losing your bearings amidst undecipherable metaphors and kooky subject-matter. You had to let the words wash over...
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