Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1652) Asides on the Oboe
The prologues are over. It is a question, now, Of final belief. So, say that final belief Must be in a fiction. It is time to choose. I That obsolete fiction of the wide river in An empty land; the gods that Boucher killed; And the metal heroes that time granulates - The philosophers' man alone still walks in dew, Still by the sea-side mutters milky lines Concerning an immaculate imagery. If you say on the hautboy man is not enough, Can never stand as a god, is ever wrong In the end, however naked, tall, there is still The impossible possible philosophers' man, The man who has had the time to think enough, The central man, the human globe, responsive As a mirror with a voice, the man of glass, Who in a million diamonds sums us up. II He is the transparence of the place in which He is and in his poems we find peace. He sets this peddler's pie and cries in summer, The glass man, cold and numbered, dewily cries, "Thou art not August unless I make thee so." Clandestine steps upon imagined stairs Climb through the night, because his cuckoos call. III One year, death and war prevented the jasmine scent And the jasmine islands were bloody martyrdoms. How was it then with the central man? Did we Find peace? We found the sum of men. We found, If we found the central evil, the central good. We buried the fallen without jasmine crowns. There was nothing he did not suffer, no; nor we. It was not as if the jasmine ever returned. But we and the diamond globe at last were one. We had always been partly one. It was as we came To see him, that we were wholly one, as we heard Him chanting for those buried in their blood, In the jasmine haunted forests, that we knew The glass man, without external reference.
Every time I read Wallace Stevens I have the sense of being sucked into a dream. There's the same impression of being faced with something immense and urgent and terribly meaningful that lies just outside one's grasp. There's the same feeling of derangement - the coming together of images that are crystal clear and contradictory and yet strangely right together. And there's the same sensation, coming away from it, that you have experienced something truly profound, though what exactly it is you have grasped about the universe remains elusive, impossible to articulate. This poem, one of my favourites, is a good example. On the one hand it's a poem rich with both sharp yet surreal images ("Clandestine steps upon imagined stairs / climb through the night, because his cuckoos call") and lines of such simple, aching beauty as "The prologues are over. It is a question now, of final belief". On the other hand, this is an incredible exercise in myth creation - Stevens gives us the philosopher's man (another great figure to go with The Emperor of Icecream, the mountain-minded Hoon and the man with a blue guitar): part Nietzschian superman, part Orpheus and part cubist glass sculpture. It's this combination of language and myth that makes this poem so incredibly multifaceted and beautiful - like staring deep into the heart of a diamond or listening to a Bach fugue. Steven's great gift, of course, is that he makes the figure of the philosopher's man come alive so dramatically - both the vividness of the image, and the credibility of the idea. If final belief must be in a fiction, then it's hard to imagine a fiction more compelling than this one. Aseem.