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Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #154) Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock
The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.
-- Wallace Stevens
A carefully constructed, tightly orchestrated poem - its final five
words, though, are no less revelatory for having been skilfully led up
to [1]. The tone is surprisingly matter-of-fact when you consider the
theme of the poem - the lack of Romance (with a capital R) in our lives.
But this isn't completely unexpected; rather, it's in keeping with
Stevens' theory that the poet should transcribe "not ideas about the
thing but the thing itself" [2]. Thus the words, though poignant in
their implications, are not in themselves sad, nor (even worse!) pitying
- they just _are_.

A note on construction: the repetition of form in lines four through six
serves to build up a dreamy, almost hypnotic effect, while the colours
themselves are evocative of the mood Stevens wishes to create. The
deliberately archaic word 'ceintures' adds to the romance-of-the-ages
thingy, while the sudden multisyllables - 'baboons and periwinkles' -
make for an increased complexity of sound and meaning. The final clause
- 'catches tigers in red weather' - suddenly brings the dream vividly to
life; the unexpected adjective simply emphasizes the energy of the


[1] There! Not just one, but two prepositions to end the sentence with.
Been proud of me, Yoda would have :-).
[2] The title of another of Stevens' poems


Pronunciation: san(n)-'tyur, -'tur, 'san-cher
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English seynture, from Middle French ceinture, from
Latin cinctura
Date: 15th century
: a belt or sash for the waist

related to
Pronunciation: 'si[ng](k)-cher
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin cinctura, girdle, from cinctus, past participle of
cingere, to gird; probably akin to Sanskrit kaanchi, girdle
Date: 1600
1 : the act of encircling
2a : an encircling area
2b : a girdle or belt, especially a cord or sash of cloth worn around an
ecclesiastical vestment

    -- from Merriam-Webster Online,

[Biography, filched from the Web]

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1879,
and died in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 2, 1955, Stevens attended
Harvard University for three years, then studied law at the New York Law
School, receiving his degree in 1903. In 1904 he was admitted to the New
York Bar and began to practise in New York City. From 1916 to his death
he was associated with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, of
which he became vice president in 1934.

Although Stevens contributed to the Harvard Advocate while in college,
he did not gain recognition until four of his poems appearing in a
special 1914 wartime issue of Poetry, won a prize. Stevens would go on
to publish a one act play, Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise, for which he
would receive another prize, and eight volumes of poetry and essays,
with a ninth seeing publication posthumously.

Despite his death and subsequent decomposition, Stevens is still the
only lawyer I would welcome in my home...

    -- Roderick Scott Greene (whoever he is)

[Just a quote]

"...imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in
the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos. It does this every day in
arts and letters."

    -- Wallace Stevens

26 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Rebecca Jordan said...

The mere mention that the sailor (who, by the way, is "drunk and asleep in his boots", which is a highly abnormal behaviour) "Catches tigers in red weather" just after it is said that the people in the white nightgowns do not dream such dreams throws into view the fact that not only are the nightgowns far different from the sailor, but that the sailor undoubtedly enjoys himself more. All in all, do something strange! becuase if you do, you are much more likely to live life.


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