Monday morning I awoke to the sight of a large dead rabbit on the street. When I left for a walk at mid-morning, two crows were tearing at the body. Forty minutes later, when I returned from the walk, two large and lordly buzzards were feasting. As I approached, one flew and perched at the top of the roof of the house. His partner continued feasting. As I approached the front door, the buzzard on the roof flew away, and taking his lead, the feasting bird left, too. About an hour later, the sanitation department of the town came and removed what was left of the corpse.
I noticed, too, that on the sidewalk from my door to the driveway and on the driveway were scores of small dead earthworms.
What happened to cause such carnage? In the name and spirit of stupidity, of which I have been surfeited recently, I say that it was my neighbor’s pole light’s fault.
Notes on Reading.
Tennessee Williams, The Night of the Iguana. (1962) This play shows a decline in the power of a good playwright. The best scene is evocative of the scene of the gentleman caller and Laura in The Glass Menagerie; there is an inane and pivotal scene in which a young, hysterical woman declares her love for the protagonist, though they have been together only one night; for some reason there is a family of singing and marching Nazis celebrating Hitler’s victory in London and laughing at the main characters; symbols (the iguana and a gold cross) are heavy-handed and obvious; poetic language has been replaced by garish light effects.
Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens. Simon & Schuster, 2016. This recently published critical biography of the great twentieth century poet succeeds because Mariani carefully presents the poetry and development of thought of the writer in relationship to events in Stevens’s life and the times. His discussions of the poems, speeches, and letters are often summary enhanced with quoted lines followed by direct quotations of sections, and then reflection on the meaning. The discussion is helpful in showing the reader how to approach the works of this sometimes difficult poet. I especially enjoyed learning about Stevens’s relationship with other writers of the day: Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.
I like this quoted dialogue between Frost and Stevens: Stevens: Your poems are too academic. Frost: Your poems are too executive. Stevens: The trouble with you, Robert, is that you write about subjects. Frost: The trouble with you, Wallace, is that you write about bric-a-brac.
I enjoyed reading about a fight between Hemingway and Stevens. Stevens, drunk at Key West, threatened Hemingway, and Hemingway thrashed Stevens. Afterward, Stevens reconciled himself with Hemingway and asked him not to tell what really occurred, for fear of repercussions from his wife and from his insurance agency, where he worked. The report for his injuries was that Stevens fell down lighthouse stairs.
I have long admired and enjoyed many of the poems of Stevens: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” “Domination of Black,” “Dissolution of Ten O’Clock,” “Sunday Morning,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man.”
The reality that they describe, of a universe without a God, has been comforting over the years, just as comforting as religious belief.
I did not know that when Stevens was dying of cancer in a hospital, he was baptized and received communion as a Catholic.
Quotations from Readings:
“Nothing human disgusts me unless it’s unkind, violent.” (Williams, The Night of the Iguana)
“We all wind up with something or with someones, and if it’s someone instead of just something, we’re lucky, perhaps. . . (Williams, The Night of the Iguana)
“. . . the cold, indifferent, vital world of lower Manhatten.” (Mariani, The Whole Harmonium)
“. . . one of the hallmarks of poetry: that one’s subject had to be constantly renewing itself just as much as one’s rhythm and diction and style.” (Mariani, The Whole Harmonium)