Do you like to read? THINKING i lost this:
Paul H. Prochnow
!'The Comedian as the Letter C"
A Mind Above a Continent
"The Comedian as the Letter C" the most dramatic if not the most ambitious work
in the whole of the poetry of Wallace Stevens. The majority of the critical
exegeses of Stevens' pivotal work concern themselves with analysis of the work
as a framework in which the poet has worked up an incomprehensible extended
metaphor of the imagination and reality. Some have re-extended, from textual
evidence this permeating analysis or interpretation, to include Stevens and
his poetic capabilities. Only a few have considered the possibility that Stevens
may have been risking the didactic in willfully constructing an allegory.
The majority are undoubtedly correct considering the pervasive dawn of the
stream of consciousness school of poetry Stevens was familiar with, and the
French school of "pure" poetry which was highly touted at the time. The evidence
of any such rationale for "The Comedian as the Letter C" provided by the author
himself are scarce and ambiguous prior to the poem's conception, so the concept
that "The Comedian as the Letter C" is a summing up of Harmonium is a highly
ogical and natural assumption, and one that an overwhelming number of critics have lionized. In considering Stevens as an individual described by his biographical information and through his letters, and described by his early poetry and literary studies, and considering that the poem was written by a man whose life was stable and comfortable, a life which could forego exhibiting himself on a metaphorical level in the public's eye, I find myself in the minority that would favor an allegorical interpretation of "The Comedian as the Letter C". This may be especially true since Stevens arrogantly might cast himself as the of the literary priest, or professor, delivering an "Academic Discourse at Havana" to the literary scene of his time. In The Necessary Angel Stevens explains how he sees the imagination at work.
"What happens is that it (the imagination) is always
attaching itself to a new reality, and adhering to it.
It is not that there is a new imagination but that
there is a new reality. 1."
Imagination is a power in most of Stevens essays that illuminates
reality and can be seen as a possibly overwhelming force in
unconstrained, but a power that he knows the uses of and can be shaped to a poets ends.
"He must be able to abstract himself, and also to abstract
reality, which he does by placing it in his imagination.
He knows he cannot rise up loftily in helmet and armor
on a horse. 2."
In the light of these definitions of Stevens on the relationship
of the imagination to reality it seems difficult to
re-echo the theme of so many critics who see Stevens ululating on
the literary stage at the loss of his creativity. Stevens imagination
is a conduited force, in this instance poured into the
character of Crispin, who is made much larger than a persona of
Stevens floundering in life. Stevens gives evidence that Crispin
is a giant in the "moonlight",
Tho, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage
Through sweating changes, never could forget
That wakefulness or meditating sleep,
In which the sulky strophes willingly
Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs.
Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book
For the legendary moonlight that once burned
In Crispin's mind above a continent.
Stevens drags Crispin through more than the moonlight imagery in
'The Comedian as the Letter C", and geographically moves him superhuman
distances in a supposedly imaginative quest. Extending a literary figure,
or persona I to the above limits is a comic and a broad hint by Stevens
that Crispin's essence is more than human and that his experience is
larger than human span. The interpretation of Crispin's mask as those
of Beaumarchis' Figaro, and Voltaire's Candide is central in most readings
of the poem and at least mentioned in others, and they certainly are the
structures at work in Stevens presentation of his hero.
Robert Buttel explores the allusive character to the fullest and introduces
the factor of "the clown or fop of the English tradition of stage comedy.
"3 His parallels between Jonson's "Sir Politic Would-Be" are well drawn.
He also notes the borrowing by Stevens of the "Nota:" device, the examination
of fleas,I the idea of travel to a new environment., and vaguely the sea imagery.
"Surely some of this nonsense prompted Stevens' statement, 'the eye of Crispin
hung/ On porpoises, instead of apricots.'" 4 In literary particulars Stevens
dresses Crispin as well as any poet has dressed a character, and the more he
is explored the deeper the entanglement with the richness of language and
symbology becomes. Since the character Crispin is studied from the third
person entirely his description assumes top priority. In "The Comedian as
the Letter C" the thinness of plot that moves Crispin enriches his blankness
and despair as an active character, because he has only perceptions and
attributes and nothing to say. But Crispin needs an even broader interpretation
to take the reader from the morass of futility Crispin seems to work himself
into. Crispin is described in a better way through the geography of the poem,
the literary jumble of allusions chalked up on Crispin's blank slate are
therefore the comic effect, and for adjectival moralizing, and hide the motive
force of the poem.
In adopting the most ancient Crispin as the Crispin Stevens intended
for the main character, we never learn for certain from Stevens himself, the
poem can be made to adhere somewhat closer to reality. The friendly unabridged
dictionary will inform us that Crispin is Saint Crispin, Roman missionary to
Gaul, and patron saint of the shoemakers. As a classically trained literary scholar
Stevens knew well of the old Roman Empires difficulties in subjugating the
populations to the north through his readings in Caesar. A missionary's work
is a noble one and surely one of the imagination, although shoemaking is not
an especially lofty occupation. In the course of ten pages Stevens did not
mean to bat about the comic value of that image, and the base humor is an
elite literary humor playing with Crispin as the opera hero and the rest.
However, Crispin is very much a missionary, not traveling to Gaul, but to
America. It is funny to see the operatic barber, or "Sir Politic Would-Be"
stepping on a ship to America, but none of these characters are broad enough
to sustain the ten pages of shocks that Stevens administers to his hero.
To do all that Crispin would need the changability of a Lamia, and even
in the comic atmosphere it would be hard to accept as an agreeable conclusion
to have such a grotesqueness personified settling down in a nice shady home.
The simple concept of the missionary Crispin, full of the spiritual freedom of
Christianity, or of a modernistic national imagination, attempting to apply
his utopian principles to the geography of the New World will supply a certain
coherency to Crispin's character, which can be symbolized as the pioneer, the
poetic imagination, or the Cristian nation state of Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'".
Whatever powers Stevens meant to endow his hero with in the symbolic guise of
Crispin it is a certainty that Stevens brings him to light as stripped as
possible in "The World without Imagination". He is placed in a state where
It was not so much the lost terrestrial
The snug hibernal from that sea and salt,
That century of wind in a single puff.
What counted was mythology of self,
Blotched out beyond unblotching.
The highly connotatively named hero is not only enraptured by Stevens romantic
seas, but immediately of an allegorical status as Stevens sweeps him clean
in a "century of wind". He is a figure of some mystery as well since Stevens
rhetorically asks us to name "this short-shanks', this "skinny sailor". After
the previously identified allusion to Jonson's porpoises, the second stanza
is concluded with another Elizabethan reference from "The Tempest" as a crusading
Crispin is disenfranchised by the sea's "Polphony beyond his baton's thrust."
Crispin's failure to master the sea is not the dilemma of Prospero however,
since Crispin is abdicating nothing, merely at a loss at sea, and with his
imaginings of the New World he will encounter. Unimaginatively pushing forward
Crispin senses but fails to realize the mythological figure of Triton. Stevens
feels Crispin is "dissolved" along with the floundering figure from mythology,
but his drowning is figurative and relates to Crispin's inability to cope with
the vastness of his imagination, i.e. the sea. The familiar objects of Crispin's
are not at sea, his original "barber's eye" is at a loss:
The imagination, here, could not evade,
In poems of plum., the strict austerity
Of one vast., subjugating, final tone.
The changes in personality wrought by the crossing momentarily expel from
Crispin's mind his ruses and visions of "salad beds".. he must confront
himself on the blank plane of sea and face imagination devoid of his familiar
reality. Stevens leaves his sea in the first section one of mystery, something
questioned and unmediated toward any finality.
Although Stevens language could be considered harsh enough in the first section
to have irrevocably changed the hero's perception and reality, and destroy him,
we find Crispin revived within nine lines in "Concerning the Thunderstorms of
Yucatan". Crispin still has his eye on the "salad beds"., only now he has been
"made vivid by the sea", with a renewed belief in himself; "Into a savage color
he went on." At this point the comic resiliency of Crispin is first revealed,
and it is no doubt due to his original acquisitive intents. He pays no mind to
the "Maya sonneteers", who Harold Bloom theorizes to have been the Harvard
poets of Stevens' time: Stickney, Lodge, and Santayana, "... who despite
American reality 'still to the nightbird make their plea."' 5 .
Stevens' hero is not of the nature to fall into a romanticist swoon after a
shattering and revealing exposure to pure imagination at sea. Bloom feels,,
"But Crispin-Stevens wasmore in the Emerson-Whitmanian Native Strain,
'to destituteto find/ In any commonplace the sought-for aid." 6.
Stylistically Stevens rejected older forms he was skilled at in Poetry, and
symbolically Stevens sought to make Crispin more of a characterthan was
possible in the traditional forms and their inherentdramatic devices.
Stevens style makes use of the highs and lowsof emotion, and rejects a
tone as subjugatingly flat as the sea,which Crispin as well rejects as
he is first introduced to hisnew terrestrial state. A traditionalist
would argue that Stevenswas incapable of a sustained tonal effort along
the lines of "Il Penseroso", but the risings and fallings of "Sunday Morning"
make it clear he had indeed developed his own style that made
best use of positive and negative imagery, depressed and elated
emotions. "The Comedian as the Letter C" , a bafflement to some.,
can be seen as the stage where a romantic, in the linguistic sense
long poem has been expanded, updated, and adapted by a modern poet
to achieve a dramatic-comic effect.
How well Crispin takes to the New World environment and,
"How greatly had he grown in his demesne,/ This auditor of insects!"
Stevens now resolves his question following the original "Nota:" ,
where he asks., ".... is this same wig/ Of things, this nincompated
pedagogue..,/ Preceptor to the sea?" Indeed, Crispin was not.
Stevens hero revels in an earthy and male reality in Yucatan.
Crispin notes the large billed "green toucan".. the "raspberry
tanager in palms,/ High up in orange air." Edward Kessler invested
much effort in translating Stevens color imagery to tell us -
"...green has been the color of natural life and physical sensation..." 7.
.through most of Stevens. He also verifies red (orange) to
be blood and love, man and woman; as they are in the court
tradition, so they usually hold for Stevens. Crispins sensations
reawaken as he chooses to write "his couplet yearly to the spring"
than join the Mayan sonneteers. Stevens does not deceive us in
promoting any idea that he would like to ride upon perfected
classical or romantic styles, though a first look at his form
on the page may say differently. If we take Bloom's lead on who
the Mayans are, the world Crispin enters is satisfying in the
rejection of the traditional. Crispin's conception of the New
World is conscious and full of reality, despite intellectual
and emotional "rucks."
He was in this as other freemen are,
Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly.
His violence was for aggrandizement
And not for stupor., such as music makes
For sleepers halfway waking.
Following onward through the second stanza Stevens presents
Crispin's imagination, the 'mind above a continent;'., as that
of the first explorers of the New World, and as he might have
conceived his own poetical efforts to those of the Mayans.
However, as the "Maya sonneteers" seem an aside as the poem is
looked at as a whole, it is more important to interpret Crispin's
"couplets" and "fables" as a metaphorical vehicle equated to history,
elaborated as "an aesthetic tough"... "Green barbarism." Focusing on
the "fables" as the central concept in question in Part II enhances
the reappearance of Crispin's writings, as they appear again modified
in Part IV as his "prolegomena." To read Crispin's reports as those of
the earliest explorers of America seems implied in the language which
is exhuberant throughout the long second stanza. What Crispin catechized
is a report reminiscent of the fabulous tales returning to Europe about
America. The more reflective Stevens introduces as a foreshadowing of
the colony later in the poem:
Crispin foresaw a curious promenade
Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate,
And elemental potencies and pangs
And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen,
A sense of destiny is at work in Crispin the missionary despite
the fabulous natural wealth he has found which Stevens sums up
as "a jostling festival ... too juicily opulent." Outside the
flamboyant natural descriptions Stevens is definitely moving
the reader and Crispin to other than sensual or imaginative con-
clusions as the thunderstorm in which the hero's mystical rev-
elation appears comes "like a gasconade of drums", evoking an
image of the march.
In the thunderstorm, "in the cathedral with the rest",
Stevens adds another modification to his missionary hero. The
change at sea gave Crispin a cleared and renewed perception of
reality, the "exquisite thought" in the cathedral has modified
Crispin's acquisitive purpose. The vaguely lost and anticipative
figure is coming into awareness of his new location. The original
purpose of discovering America, in the historical sense, is
being set aside with Crispin's realization of the power he now
possesses. Whatever religious or political purposes and concepts
he would have established in America have changed.
His mind was free
And more than free, elate, intent, profound
And studious of a self possessing him,
That was not in him in the crusty town
From which he sailed.
The geographical landscape and elements that Stevens just
animated now animate his hero in a vast vision of "mountainous
ridges, purple balustrades", and his voice cries loudly as the
thunder. Stevens leaves the fact that Crispin is still on the
move practically understood through the imagery, and
merely states the west lay beyond. Crispin moves on skipping the leg
of his tour to Cuba mentioned earlier and in the poem, the alteration
suggesting the gelling of a new concept of the western hemisphere
Part III, "Approaching Carolina" presents the least action
in the modification of the allegorical hero. Stevens calls this
to our attention by asking us to "leave room" in "The book of
moonlight." At this point, throughout part three, we have Stevens
discourse on the imagination and a redefinition of his attitude
toward the romantic tradition. Although Crispin is still a dreamer,
or idealistic missionary, he
never could forget
That wakefulness or mediating sleep
In which the sulky strophes willingly
Bore up, in time the somnolent, deep songs.
Stevens "mind above a continent" is considered in two different
climates. The America that "was always north to him" contemplated
as contrast to the sensual tropics he has recently departed. The
two climates can be interpreted as Stevens" two theories of poetry
presented in The Necessary Angel.
'It is primarily a discipline of rightness. The poet is
constantly concerned with two theories. One relates to the imagination
as a power within not so much to destroy reality at will as to put it
to his own uses. He comes to feel that his imagination is not wholly
his own but that it may be part of a much larger, much more potent
imagination, which is his affair to try to get at," and "The second
theory relates to the imagination as a power within him to have such
insights into reality as will make it possible for him to be sufficient
as a poet in the very center of consciousness." 8.
As Crispin can be found moving with purpose into Carolina
"Perhaps the Artic moonlight really gave/ The liason, the blissful liason.
/ Between himself and his environment,/ Which was, and is, chief motive,
first delight." The instilling of purpose, the awakening to an intellect-
ually cool environment, is Stevens' way of representing an active and matur-
ing imagination. In the tropics Crispin went into the color ignoring tradition
and arrived at "the very center of consciousness", and sensuality, and was
too pleased and contained by it. In the north Crispin again ignores the "
niggling nightingale" but feels his mind more at work and imaginative,
and stimulated by the use of his imagination he becomes "The poetic hero
without palms." When spring destroys his "Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly
drawn" it is "A time abhorrent to the nihilist/ Or searcher for the fecund
minimum." And so it is for the adherent of the first theory presented
above. As Crispin is bound to settle at making a home in the higher latitudes,
we may well draw a conclusion as to which theory of poetry Stevens might
have preferred, as well as which is the operative motivation in "The Comedian
as the Letter C".In the north the imagination is a "gemmy marionette"
of spring and Stevens holds the strings directing it to the errantness
of the "essential prose." The visual and sensual south now is abandoned
and the missionary zeal directed toward fences and railroad tracks. As to
now refined imagination, "It made him see how much/ Of what he saw he
never saw at all."
The figurative soil of Carolina becomes Crispin's intelligence,
and in what almost seems a sigh of relief Stevens tells us "That's better."
Becoming indigenously American, missionary zeal is now portrayed as devoid,
if not resentful, of the romantic traditions in literature: law, the king,
and devotion to formulized truth. The "new intelligence" in "prose/ More
exquisite than any tumbling verse," will be the basis for the founding of
the colony. The writings of the allegorical hero again regain focus as
Part IV "The Idea of a Colony" progresses. His first writings for the colony are
central hymns, the celebrants
Of rankest trivia, test of the strength
Of his aesthetic, his philosophy,
The more invidious, the more desired.
To break from "stale intelligence" animosity is necessary
to make a colony one's own. If Stevens is not making his statement,
Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, and on the way those
documents struck the entrenched powers in colonial times, he is
commenting on modern verse's impact on the literary tradition and
society. As these documents registered and became steering
notions for the colony, a statement "more bellicose., came on."
It is interesting that Stevens should call the Constitution
a "prolegomena" in this poem in the midst of such a playful
discursion on Americas origins. The imagination has definitely
been of the nature that adheres and readheres to reality in the
long block of 75 lines that starts "The Idea of a Colony".. but
the use of "prolegomena" brings to mind the strictures of Kant's
"Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics", and the German mind of
the budding industrial revolution and modern scientific age.
Crispints and Stevens' comic interpretation of the constitution
is only half "new intelligence", because Stevens sees Crispin
inscribing laws of "commingled souvenirs and prophecies."
These concerns with the dynamics of the political and artistic
are a reoccurring concept for Stevens. Twenty years later his
adhering and vital imagination, for him reality, is yet concerned
with vast sweeps of time and world such as is Crispin 's 'mind
above a continent.
The Russians followed the Victorians, and the Germans
in their way, followed the Russians. The British Empire,.
directly or indirectly, was what was left and as to
that one could not be sure whether it was a shield or
a target. Reality then became violent and so remains. 9'
Stevens comic discussion of the American mentality and
it's place in the vast sweep of things is mixed with the soil
it sprang from throughout Part IV. Crispin's writing, still
underlaid by an old ethic, seems an organizational catchall for
the diversity of the hemisphere's inhabitants. "Abhorring Turk
as Esquimau", the missionary forms his own new indigenous esthetic.
A strict conversion to the old staleness is out. A Georgian
native for Crispin needs to be a "pine spokesman", the Floridian
"Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery.,/ But on the banjo's
categorical gut." Stevens is giving qualities to an America
bold in it's newness in comparison to a slowly self-restructuring
vision of history from the Old World. A fixed ecclesiastical order
will not do for America any more than would the chaotic rule of
mescal bibbling natives. The phenomena of synthesis is Crispin's
ordering principle. He can be seen as a conceptual overlord of a
dawning new era, but with enough sense of order to police the
action as he has "Shrewd novitiates/ (Should) be the clerks of
our experience." Crispin learns the diversity and opportunity
fortunately can be controlled. Stevens' vital imagination keys on
substance as an ordering principle, and mere appearances of ideas
as well as leaders are suspect.
He could not be content with counterfeit.,
With masquerade of thought, with hapless words
That must belie the racking masquerade.,
With fictive flourishes that preordained
His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree
Of buttons., measure of his salt. Such trash
Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly.
It irked him beyond patience.
America, as Crispin., is "an aspiring clown" a dreamer., but a
dreamer realistic enough to dream "in a gingerly way." The three
lines standing out at the end of "The Idea of a Colony" fix the
realism of Crispin's efforts. His play on the world stage is not
to be a rehash of past history covered up with a blue sky
commerciality intent on cheating the American continent of it's
destiny. His definition of himself, his writings, are not to be
in vain. "No, no: veracious page on page, exact."
In "A Nice Shady Home" Stevens starts to bemoan the American
image he has breathed too much hope into. To this point he has
elaborated on the vitality of the American manifest destiny, and
writing in the early twenties seems to recognize that a new tone
must be recognized in a realistic definition of Crispin's place
in the sweep of time and history. Boundaries are being set up;
and Stevens seems to feel the success of the colony has taken
some degree of initiative from the "pricking realist" and his
internal debates "Of was and is and shall or ought to be", have
dulled his acquisitive desires that kept his earlier imaginary eye
fixed on "salad beds". Success has limits as well as the imagination.
Stevens seems to favor the earlier quixotic enterprise of Crispin
and feels he may have been able to "jig his chits" on a loftier
level "on a cloudy knee," or have made more of his efforts than
he has. Chits are again a reference to Crisrin's writings, a naval
term meaning a request for a favor or franchise. Joseph N. Riddell
seems to have contextually read this through the last use of the
word in the final section, and calls them " ... his relations-the
chits, and his relations with and to the world-..." 10. Most of
the other critics interpret chit as sprout, young girl, or 'promissory
note. After a long symbiosis in Part IV a paper interpretation
seems appropriate. After his, i.e., Stevens, experience on the
waterfront in New York, and through his insurance dealings, and
law training the request interpretation
of the word chit was probably not unknown to him. The image is
the first calling down to earth of Stevens' allegorical "mind
above the continent." Crispin "Slid from his continent by slow
recess/ To things within his actual eye, alert/ To the difficulty
of rebellious thought/ When the sky is blue." Crispin now will
be presented primarily as having filled out his territory as
well as any singular missionary can colonize. His territory
Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned,
Little by little, as if the suzerain soil
Abashed him by carous to humble yet
Stevens is coming to grips with reality which an unconstrained
imagination only let him experience in Yucatan. Control of the
imagination extends itself to control of reality, and through
the process of developing this allegory Stevens is leading us
to a realization that tempers imagination with the real.
Two consecutive stanzas end in word plays: First, "Of shall or
ought to be in is", and "what is is what should be." The flowing
rollicking verse is broken intentionally twice, and the structures
cause a reader to think again, to pause. Stevens is pointing out a
denouement here no doubt, and focusing on a teleologized philosophy.
The remaining imagery in the poem will be more definitional than
symbiotic. Crispin's philosophy is now congealing in these first
two stanzas of Part V., and Stevens puts it in a questioning voice.
Crispin is not to step out of the bounds of his "matinal continent"
as his roots are taking hold, "So Crispin hasped on the surviving form."
In establishing his home Crispin's overexhuburant imagination is
channeled to more productive enterprise. Stevens harks back to his
most famous early poem in the image of the rejected plans of
"Loquacious columns by the ructive sea." In sonnet IX of a series
published in May 1899 Stevens contemplated the theme "Cathedrals
are not built along the sea." 11
"The Comedian as the Letter C" could practically
be developed as an examination and expansion of Stevens'
concept of the imagination from that earlier date. "Even at this
earlier time he considered the limits of the imagination and
states in the sonnet that if cathedrals were constructed in
panoramic settings "those who knelt within the gilded stalls/
Would have vast outlook for their weary eyes." The sonnet
written for the philosopher George Santayana, arrives in sixteen lines
at what "The Comedian as the Letter C" does in ten pages, with
all the comic and dramatic statements left out of course.
A dwelling and a bride arrive rather abruptly from
the midst of the allegorical tract, comically arriving in some
what of a deus ex machina fashion, in a way noting the point at
which Stevens feels a matured imagination can handle them. The
landscape is still animated Stevens style, as a "cabin shuffled up"
in a place where crickets are custodians. A Crispin intellectually
satisfied by his colony can now forsake the intellectual for a more
physical husbandry. What he loses in visionary energy he gains
in physical rewards. The ancient missionary discovers that there
is indeed life in Gaul, that does not need the rigors of philo-
Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner.
For all it takes it gives a humped return
Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed.
In Part VI "And Daughters with Curls" the language is
again lively and raucous, after the first stanza setting rather
musically the active harmony Crispin has settled into. The
majority of critics find Crispin's adaptation to the quotidian as
somewhat of a failure in not realizing fulfillment of his original
premise, but nowhere in the verse, and definitely not in the first
stanza of Part VI, does the author himself forward that theory.
Although on a literary level we see Stevens settling more into
his second theory of imagination provided above, it is hard to tell
where this notion developed. Stevens again never distinguishes a
superior position for either in his essay, he simply presents them
without a moral elucidation to favor one or the other, other than
in my reading of the Carolina section. I think the consensus that
Stevens meant to indict the imagination, applying it to everyday
"midwifery", is reinforced by the imagery used to describe life
in Crispin's cabin. Also, Stevens may be making a comic contrast
by changing his use of the word chits from the legal to human context
in the final section as if to say these are the products of philosophy.
Or, on the other hand setting up a huge mysterious imagery in the
discussion of his daughters. After all his wife is barely mentioned,
and the daughters get well over a page. We could set up an analogy of
the wife as the continent and the daughters the product of it. Similar
analyses have been attempted due to the animation Stevens had tenaciously
developed as the reality for the poem as a whole. Does Stevens ask for
such an interpretation in this description; "True daughters both of Crispin
and his clay."?
The daughters are widely interpreted to be the seasons in almost
every critical work on "The Comedian as the Letter C". James Baird
develops the most imaginative conclusions on the four daughters who
are for him the centuries of his history on American shores: the first.,
in a "capuchin" cloak and hood (the mien of a Puritan wife); the second,
in a half-awakened state (a tentative national consciousness, as the
eighteenth century advances'; the third., "a creeper under jaunty leaves
('leaves" of an emerging American poetry of the nineteenth century);
the fourth, still "pent", the one not yet fully grown (the inception of
the twentieth). 12.
Although Stevens gives us no clue to draw any conclusions such
as the interpretation just wrung from the bulk of the poem above, we can
provide ideas to solve Stevens' mysticism. Considered from the viewpoint
of an American consciousness and imagination adhering and readhering to
reality, the first daughter might be made out to be an early central
constitutional America operating in a religious capuchin cloak, the second
a not fully awakened or fulfilled industrial revolution, the third a
symbol of American world power, that in the time the poem was written was
a "creeper under jaunty leaves" of the history book, and the fourth a
figure something like today's technology in his time still "pent".,
"mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified." Another interpretation,
relating back to Crispin's writings of which so much of the poem was
focused on, could give credence to an expansion.of the daughter imagery
as to the four major components of American government; the judicial,
executive, administrative, and military/industrial. Such parallel
structures tax the inventors imagination and are hard to cull from
the poem as the only evidence, but the imagery of the daughters is
there in the poem and included to draw speculative thinking from the reader.
A strict allegorical representation and interpretation of the
symbolic nature of the daughters would be nice, but it seems they should be
left as a mystery and seem such an obtuse part of the poem. Who, or
whatever they are, their appearance contributes greatly to the comic
atmosphere of the poem. Perhaps they are the comic puzzle of an original
imagination tossed into the unbridled sea of the first section, a statement
reaffirming the need to let ancient Triton drown, and find our own mythology
about us. Crispin is not displeased by his daughters who "spread
chromatics in hilarious dark." They are a sounding board for his philosophies
and his colony's constitution., "Four questioners and four sure answerers.
" Possibly one will take up Crispin's quest where he left off, at
the least Crispin is still learning by observing his progeny at play,
and from the play, "Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout." Although
Stevens comically tells us he wishes to demolish the idealism of Crispin
for once and for all in the last stanza, and this is where much of the
negatively colored criticism originates, Crispints idealism, his "turnip",
is "sown again by the stiffest realist", and is "reproduced in purple,
family font." The serenely sly clown of Part IV is still in Crispin even
at the very end of the poem, only now geographically motionless and settled
down, he still is a man to make a "Disguised pronunciamento", "But muted,
mused and perfectly revolved." Now he has gained dignity through his
"sweating changes.'; he has changed from the "musician of pears' to the
one who can make the "sounds of music" come into accord
Upon his law, like their inherent sphere,,
Seraphic proclamations of the pure
Delivered with a deluging onwardness.
But as a conclusion to this majestic harmony Stevens
steps back to moralize on his hero's quest with some pith and irony
giving him negative attributes as "Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure",
quixotically gorging his fancy with apparition and "proving what he
proves/ Is nothing." This last doubt consciously placed at the very end
to intensify a contrast to the positively developing movement of the
whole poem and accentuate the breadth of wisdom Crispin has acquired.
The wisdom Crispin as garnered from the quest seems to answer the question,
"what can all this matter since/ The relation comes, benignly, to its end?
" Considering the richness of the life Stevens presented through his hero
Crispin we gladly-echo Stevens, "So may the relation of each man be clipped."
1. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination.,
by Wallace Stevens, c. 1951 . Knopf New York. p. 22
2. ibid. 1. p. 22
3.Wallace Stevens-The Making of Harmonium, by Robert Buttel,c.1967
Princeton niversity Press, Princeton, New Jersey., p. 197,
4. ibid. 3. p. 197
5. Wallace Stevens-The,.Poems of 0ur Climate , by Harold Bloom,
c.-19 , Cornell university Press, Ithaca , New York p.75
6. ibid 5. p.75
7. Images of Wallace Stevens, by Edward Kessler, c. 1972.,
Rutgers University Press, NewBrunswick, New Jersey
8. ibid. 1. p.115
9. ibid. 1. D.26
10. The Clairvoyant Eve:The Poetry and Poetics of Wallace Stevens,
by Joseph N. Riddell c. lub.b, Louisiana State University Press-.,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana I P.101
11. Souvenirs and-Prorhecies-The Young,Wallace Stevens by Holly
Stevens, c. 1977, A2red A . Knopf, New York
12. The Dom e and The Rock-Structure of the Poetry of Wa11ace Stevens
by James Baird., The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland 1968