Feb 6, 2011

Wallace Stevens in Florida: "Nomad Exquisite"

Nomad Exquisite by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry

My gratitude to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival for introducing me to “Nomad Exquisite” by Wallace Stevens (as well as the poems by Anthony Hecht on Jan. 22 and Theodore Roethke, Jan. 28-31).

“Nomad Exquisite” begins as a sketch about Florida and quickly complicates itself into something much more intricate than a travel guide.

Another gaseous explosion of analysis from me is imminent; it’s currently at about 1,000 words. But I’m first going to toss out some questions for readers. I’d rather hear you play with the poem, at least for a while. If you are enthusiastic, maybe I'll put The Windbag in File 13, but no promises.

I apologize if these feel too much like a textbook’s study questions; I’ve tried to make them a little different. Also, I really am interested in your responses. In fact, I know a high-ranking Cyber Cop, and if you’ve read this far and do NOT respond to at least one question, your next batch of cookies will melt in the oven, you will upload on the download staircase, and a surfeit of snails will swarm in your garden. Oh yes—and your dogs will bark.

1. What do you like about the poem?

2. What do you dislike?

For a couple of decades at least, poetry people have been talking more and more about discovery in experiencing a poem. Along these lines, even the ancient Robert Frost wrote, “No surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.” Clearly, Frost’s point intends surprise as a good thing, an earned discovery or turn or eye-catching phrase, not a cheap gimmick that intrudes on and cheats the integrity of the poem.

3. In that context, what, if anything, surprises you in or about “Nomad Exquisite”?

4. Two surprising things I hear in the poem are a lot of repetition and an unorthodox portrait of a paradise. Whatever else you hear, do you hear either of those, and if so, what do you make of them?

5. If this poem were going to change somebody’s life, how might it do that?

Thank you. Now you may go and try to have fun in a different sandbox. But it will be dull by comparison . . . .

Nomad Exquisite by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


gothpunkuncle said...

Well Professor ... I'm at first surprised by the choice of "angering" in the initial quatrain. The speaker's awe at nature, or more precisely his incantation against the awe of nature, manifests internally as "hymn and hymn," and it's a little surprising that a single "hymn" won't do here, but retreating to the socialized/religious/New English is all the speaker can do against this fauna that angers for life. And I like that the vines anger "for" life rather than "against" life. We can leave the angering against to the puritans back home.

It's good to isolate a poem like "Nomad Exquisite." Harmonium might be one of the five books a poet should read cover to cover once a year, but it's a rich pageant, indeed. A bit like polishing off a cheesecake in a single setting.

We'll see where this goes for now. I can say more about how Stevens is the heir apparent to Dickinson later if you'd like. (If you're back, stay warm, stay plowed and call me.)

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have read it a second time. I guess maybe I see the alligator tail disturbing the water, flipping up drops to catch the sun. That's all.

I'll try once more at night. Should we care that Wallace repeats? Does he make us care? Does he care if we care?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Not a huge fan of this poem, but here it goes:
1. I like the imagery of the plants and their colors: the green vine, the big-finned palm. The first verse is easy to see, a place I would like to visit.

2. I don't like the turn taken in the second verse. It means nothing to me. 'Gold sides of green sides'? I rarely see gold in green.

I'm lost after this verse.

3. It surprises me that after the imagery of #1, the view just goes away. I am depending on you to describe what is going on, ok?
I am surprised that 'Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames' is an empty image.

So, 4 & 5? I will with-hold these comments until I understand the twist taken in verse 2.
Really... and I had such hopes!

Ken Mac said...

i love my cold weather, but this looks gorgeous

Banjo52 said...

GPU and all, I hope my word is good, for here is a tidbit from the gaseous explosion I wrote and have heretofore spared you: As Meg Ryan might say, he had me at a vine “angering for life.” ... aren’t all organisms angering for life? For survival, isn’t that PRECISELY what we must do, at least from time to time?

GPU, I'll also have comments on puritans.

AH, I never thought of the alligator and his tail in connection to the flakes of flame. I like that a lot. To your first two questions, I say yes. To your third, I'd say I don't think we should care if he cares if we care. LOL, but I mean it.

Ken, gorgeous in a very Florida way. I'm still ambivalent, but when I can get out of the cold, I do. Probably.

Brenda, I do think each stanza demands more of us, fairly or unfairly. I'm trusting Stevens on gold in green; I haven't seen or noticed it, but maybe . . .

Also, there and throughout Stanzas 2 and 3, the poem gets more demanding--and even hallucinatory? . . . until the last two lines are, maybe, more passionate, impressionistic, irrational and passionate than literal. Maybe they are the vigor he sees, wants, longs for, doesn't have? And vigor is, maybe, kissing cousin to "angering" vines and young alligators?

Whether or not that's true, what do you think about GPU's point on Stevens' divergence from or even rebellion against a New England, puritan perspective on religious experience?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I suspect you have plans to deconstruct the heck out of this poem, so I'll keep commentary to a minimum.

"Nomad Exquisite"

If I owned a race horse, thats what I'd name it.

There's a palm that grows in Florida that I'm "angering" for. It's called Travelers Palm. Did you come across them?

Artist Eugene Savage in the Everglades
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman

sure does "brings forth hymn and hymn from the beholder"

Jean Spitzer said...

I like the end of the poem, the last line. And the whole poem feels tropical.

Banjo52 said...

PA, I didn't notice a palm like that, but I get over-focused on birds.

PA, maybe today's (Feb. 11) is a way of talking about the poem and poetry and art that is NOT deconstruction. On the other hand, I think careful analysis gets an undeservedly bad name--though some folks turn it into a drying out of the art, I agree. Maybe I do too . . .

Jean, I like that impressionistic "feels tropical." I agree.

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