Saturday, October 25, 2008

Le Monocle de Mon Oncle--I

Okay, first, as far as I can tell this poem was published in 1923 when Stevens was 44, so it seems safe to assume it was written, as the speaker in the poem notes, in "the faith of forty". I know nothing of Stevens and don't really want to do any research just yet, but it's likely there is manuscript evidence of the date of composition. In any event, this poem is found in his first book, Harmonium. I find dates of composition compelling as it seems to me quite relevant to a poem's meaning. At the very least it allows the reader to cast his/her mind into the thoughts of that age--if you're 40 you might have some thoughts about "being 40"--likely, as I posted earlier, something of a crisis time, whether small "c" or big "C" crisis. This poem reads to me like a standard crisis for forty--confronting aging and death through the body (sex) and mind (poetry/art/writing). Virility in performance can be assessed in either. So, to the poem.

One should probably start with the title, in French (which Stevens seems to have a proclivity for using)--My Uncle's Monocle. Seems a silly title (that's possibly the case), but it also seems clear after reading the poem that it's intended as a stand-in for the penis--one lens, one eye, you get the picture...My Penis's Single I--a singular vision of what life is about. If you start with a title focusing on the view from your penis where do you go from there? Mockery of the muse and the self as poet/lover? Will the poet salvage his "strength" to achieve multiple...

“Mother of heaven, regina of the clouds,
O sceptre of the sun, crown of the moon,
There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing,
Like the clashed edges of two words that kill.”
And so I mocked her in magnificent measure.
Or was it that I mocked myself alone?
I wish that I might be a thinking stone.
The sea of spuming thought foists up again
The radiant bubble that she was. And then
A deep up-pouring from some saltier well
Within me, bursts its watery syllable.

Here is the "I" of the poem quoting himself and describing it as a mockery of a "she" unnamed but "labeled"...I'm going to guess this is the muse or simply Poetry: the Poet addressing his muse. This stanza/section sets the stage: the invocation of the muse in "magnificent measure" which is mockery according to the poet, but perhaps the truth is this is a self-conscious mockery as he is addressing himself, his ability to write poems and perhaps he's conflicted in considering the idea of the poetic tradition--the past ("measure"--one's verse, one's "length"--a word so full that we may play with it as we will).

Interesting that in my Faber Selected (can we assume the poet ordered them?) from 1953 the poem that precedes this one is The Snow Man which ends "For the listener, who listens in the snow,/And, nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." And you can see that the Poet here says "There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing,/
Like the clashed edges of two words that kill.” Lots of nada! But again, we have at the least here, a play on words and swords--this is a battle--with the past, with the self, with poetry, and again, the sword is another substitute for penis. But what strikes me is the tone (is it tone?) of that "not nothing, no, no, never nothing..." stuttering, unsure, desperate, or perhaps fearing something happening prematurely? Or is this an admitting that the words themselves will always allow at the least a double-meaning or double-measure. Two words that kill themselves--cancel out a singular meaning.

In the first 5 lines we have the vision of the Poet standing before the muse holding his cock in mockery...only to back off..and "mock himself alone"--fuck himself. Then wishing himself a thinking stone...does he want to always be hard or to be rid of his biology altogether?

But "spuming thought" conjures an arousing image (radiant bubble) and then the poet orgasms, an "up-pouring...bursts its watery syllable." And again, poet and penis are conflated. A syllable, another measure, but perhaps the orgasmic outcry as well.

Now one stands back and wonders, are these 12 sections simply 12 versions of this vision? And perhaps the vagina will have its say...And let's just have it out...12 inches is a foot--a foot long--the vision of the poem as a large penis--though its potency and effectualness appear to be in question.

No comments: