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Wallace Stevens is a relatively recent addition to the hallowed mental halls of poets I love. In fact, I fell in love with his poetry right around the same time I fell in love with another man from Connecticut. (Wink.) And like all poets and writers I love, I get defensive of where and how their works are used. Particularly on the wild, wild west of the internet.

Wallace Stevens is quotable, to be sure. I know many folks stumble on this site by having searched, “The self is a cloister full of remembered sounds.” And often, in the summer, the line “The summer night is like a perfection of thought” shows up here and there, but really, the whole poem is worth a look. On a summer night, naturally.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

~~Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)
(from “Harmonium,” 1923)

Another interesting thing about internet postings of poetry is that the posters often “clean up” intentional word choices and spellings. Poor e.e. cummings is often a victim of this, but it happens to Stevens too. The poem above usually appears online with either “much” or “most” deleted from line 7, even though every edition of Harmonium and the Collected Works, as well as the many poetry-appreciation anthologies in which it appears, publish the line that Stevens actually wrote: “Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be…” So perhaps that is the best argument I can make for books, for printed, paper-and-ink books: “The access of perfection to the page.”

Post Author: polyarchivist

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