Week 311: Anglais Mort à Florence, by Wallace Stevens

Every so often I have another go at reading Wallace Stevens, whose work I continue to find intriguing and frustrating in equal measure. Intriguing because the verse has such hypnotic cadences; frustrating because it seems to exist in some parallel universe where sometimes the words have meanings or associations that don’t seem to have made their way into mine. As a case in point, the last three stanzas here seem to me very fine, with the repetition of ‘But he remembered the time when he stood alone’ tolling like a bell, but what on earth are the police doing suddenly crashing in on the scene out of nowhere? Does this refer to some incident in a novel (possibly, from the poem’s title, a French novel) that I haven’t read? As usual, any enlightenment will be gratefully received.

Anglais Mort à Florence

A little less returned for him each spring.
Music began to fail him. Brahms, although
His dark familiar, often walked apart.

His spirit grew uncertain of delight,
Certain of its uncertainty, in which
That dark companion left him unconsoled

For a self returning mostly memory.
Only last year he said that the naked moon
Was not the moon he used to see, to feel

(In the pale coherences of moon and mood
When he was young), naked and alien,
More leanly shining from a lankier sky.

Its ruddy pallor had grown cadaverous.
He used his reason, exercised his will,
Turning in time to Brahms as alternate

In speech. He was that music and himself.
They were particles of order, a single majesty:
But he remembered the time when he stood alone.

He stood at last by God’s help and the police;
But he remembered the time when he stood alone.
He yielded himself to that single majesty;

But he remembered the time when he stood alone,
When to be and delight to be seemed to be one,
Before the colors deepened and grew small.

Wallace Stevens

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