Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1249) The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm
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 the 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.
In Stevens, poetry becomes a key for reading reality; for organizing and filtering life's chaos so as to create an inner, perfect order both artistic and gnosiological. (cfr. The Idea of Order at Key West). This poem expresses a quest for a poetry of totality where man is in accordance with reality; a quest which characterized much literature of the 50s and which finds (at least temporarily) a satisfying answer in this poem. The poem presents the magic moment of multiple identifications when a reader, with a book in his hands, recognizes himself, his world, the substance of things in what he is reading, so that the reader, the book, the summer night, the house, the world are all fused in an existential unity of real, inner and outer, truth. Even the reader of Stevens's poem becomes part of this whole, thus equating himself with the fictional reader in the poem in a confounding identification of roles which creates a mise en abime. The reader becomes an instrument of literature; the poem he reads becomes not simply a mirror of his condition as a reader, but rather that much more vivid reality where emotion are stronger; concepts are clearer; events even much more concrete but corresponding and complementary to those we may experience while we are not reading, in the, so called, real life. As an Italian reader I may be wrong, but I think in this conception of unity there are echoes of oriental philosophies (which Stevens admired and studied) according to which unity is a whole of parts combined in the universal quiet, in the fusion of antithetic elements. Stevens blends the variety of elements in a nocturne, oneiric, imaginative moment through an incremental repetition which constantly enrich the meaning of words with new attributes to specify and precise it. Finally, I wonder if the poem does not allow the reader (both real and fictional) to become, a creator, a contributor to the artistic composition as well as of an intense strong osmotic reality, which exchanges art and life, words and experience. Cristina Gazzieri