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

4 thoughts on “Week 311: Anglais Mort à Florence, by Wallace Stevens

  1. Eleanor Cook gives the following quote from one of Stevens’ letters. “Most people stand by the aid of philosophy, religion … but a strong spirit (Anglais, etc.) stands by its own strength. Even such a spirit is subject to degeneration”. The person described here is getting old and can no longer stand alone?

  2. By the way, what about doing another Stevens poem in your blog? I don’t really understand him but he’s a remarkable voice. You don’t need my help to choose a poem – but I recently liked (and half understood) “THE. RIVER OF RIVERS IN CONNECTICUT”.

    • Sorry, Chris, but it probably won’t happen. I can see why Stevens is admired, and I can see that poems like ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Postcard from the Volcano’ contain some fine lines and interesting ideas, but somehow very few of his poems work for me as a whole – just that bit too rarefied for my taste, too manneredly obscure. A failing on my part, no doubt, but I do try in this blog to stick to poems I really engage with and to avoid the dutiful obeisance.

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