Friday, October 2, 2015

A Great Disorder Is an Order, or: Born 136 Years Ago Today


Wallace Stevens

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier mache...
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry - it was
A chorister whose c proceeded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by it's choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.


Wallace Stevens


A. A violent order is disorder; and
B. A great disorder is an order. These
Two things are one. (Pages of illustrations.)


If all the green of spring was blue, and it is;
If the flowers of South Africa were bright
On the tables of Connecticut, and they are;
If Englishmen lived without tea in Ceylon, and they do;
And if it all went on in an orderly way,
And it does; a law of inherent opposites,
Of essential unity, is as pleasant as port,
As pleasant as the brush-strokes of a bough,
An upper, particular bough in, say, Marchand. 


After all the pretty contrast of life and death
Proves that these opposite things partake of one,
At least that was the theory, when bishops' books
Resolved the world. We cannot go back to that.
The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind,
If one may say so. And yet relation appears,
A small relation expanding like the shade
Of a cloud on sand, a shape on the side of a hill. 


A. Well, an old order is a violent one.
This proves nothing. Just one more truth, one more
Element in the immense disorder of truths.
B. It is April as I write. The wind
Is blowing after days of constant rain.
All this, of course, will come to summer soon.
But suppose the disorder of truths should ever come
To an order, most Plantagenet, most fixed…
A great disorder is an order. Now, A
And B are not like statuary, posed
For a vista in the Louvre. They are things chalked
On the sidewalk so that the pensive man may see. 


The pensive man…He sees that eagle float
For which the intricate Alps are a single nest. 


  1. 0) here it is a rainy day in october, and you are posting wallace stevens poems said to be set in march and april

    1) in one of these, wallace is quoted as having written

    Surrounded by it's choral rings

    wouldn't its - no apostrophe - have been more appropriate?

    2)and speaking of a new knowledge of reality, as wallace did decades ago, here are some decade-old words of thomas cleary, interviewed in the san francisco bay guardian literary supplement, 2004

    BG: Officially imposed ignorance and prejudice have reached a new pinnacle in this country since 9/11. Are there lessons to be gleaned from the priests and mystics who have dealt with repressive regimes in the past?

    TC: In today's context as well as any other, we need to consider the underlying mechanisms of ignorance and prejudice, including the purposes for which they are fostered. Thinking of today's situation as unique will inhibit our ability to take lessons from past precedents or to perceive predictable futures. We could potentially benefit from studying the reactions of all classes and conditions of people to repressive regimes, not just certain groups.

    As for priests and mystics, one thing history tells us is that people called priests have also acted as agents of repressive regimes, and people called mystics have also acted as escapists in the interest of personal peace of mind. Then again, there have also been priests who brought order from chaos, and priests who led wars against repressive regimes, and mystics who have left great legacies of science and art, and mystics who labored and suffered in the world for the sake of others.

    When we get past labels and ideologies and see what people really are and actually do, we are in a position to ask ourselves what lessons we can derive from events. And then we can ask ourselves if we're able to make any use of these lessons. When it comes to appointing other people to do our thinking for us, we've had the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing for so long that we sometimes forget why it's there.

    [end of quote from 2004 interview with Thomas Cleary - the emboldened phrase has had emphasis added, to bring out its similarity to the first poem's title]

  2. We share a law school alma mater. I thought about that every single day for those three years. Read him & his biography in my, ahem, spare time.