Monday, 15 August 2011


To be or not to be free? That is a question.

But what does it really mean to be free? I mean to be really free. I think the answer can be sought through Wallace Stevens' famous poem. It's one of my favourites. I put it here in the hope that it will bring some new readers to Stevens. It may at the same time free-up some confused and troubled minds. It deserves the reading and the rereading.


Tired of the old descriptions of the world,
The latest freed man rose at six and sat
On the edge of his bed. He said,
"I suppose there is
A doctrine to this landscape. Yet, having just
Escaped from the truth, the morning is color and mist,
Which is enough: the moment's rain and sea,
The moment's sun (the strong man vaguely seen),
Overtaking the doctrine of this landscape. Of him
And of his works, I am sure. He bathes in the mist
Like a man without a doctrine. The light he gives -
It is how he gives light. It is how he shines,
Rising upon the doctors in their beds
And on their beds. . . . "
And so the freed man said.
It was how the sun came shining into his room:
To be without a description of to be,
For a moment on rising, at the edge of the bed, to be,
To have the ant of the self changed to an ox
With its organic boomings, to be changed
From a doctor into an ox, before standing up,
To know that the change and that the ox-like struggle
Come from the strength that is the strength of the sun,
Whether it comes directly or from the sun.
It was how he was free. It was how his freedom came.
It was being without description, being an ox.
It was the importance of the trees outdoors,
The freshness of the oak-leaves, not so much
That they were oak-leaves, as the way they looked.
It was everything being more real, himself
At the centre of reality, seeing it.
It was everything bulging and blazing and big in itself,
The blue of the rug, the portrait of Vidal,
Qui fait fi des joliesses banales, the chairs.

Wallace Stevens 2 Oct 1879 - 2 August 1955
The photo of Stevens in the sidebar is the one on the cover of my copy of his Collected Poems published by Ferozsons, Lahore, Pakistan. This lovely book is set in Electra, a Linotype designed by W. A. Dwiggins. It is a pleasure to handle and read.


  1. I don;t know this poet at all Gwilym but it is my poetry afternoon on Wednesday so I intend to read the poem there as it will be a new poet for everyone I am sure.

  2. It's a very deep thing isn't it? The shape of the oak leaves. The idea of getting away from the idea of ant (the holy book says we should study) and come to the ox - the great observer and ruminator. And so on. It's like the basic idea of Rabindranath Tagore, a kind of standing back and by doing so becoming more of the scene or the idea of the scene - the centre of it even. I think you can explore this poem for hours on end. Good luck at your poetry group!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.