An Annotation of Wallace Stevens' Of Modern Poetry
In "Of Modern Poetry," Stevens describes the purpose of modern poetry given what the audience knows and values. Modern poetry must be different from traditional poetry, because people of his time perceive themselves and their world differently than the people of earlier times. Stevens suggests that war, like other changes, have affected what people believe. Poetry must reflect to its audience what they want to hear. It must show them that the order, meaning and value they need is real, in so much as their minds both need it and can create it.
OF MODERN POETRY
The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.
Poetry is highly related to the human mind, because the order and truth in the mind of the poet is the source of it and the audience understands and interprets poetry based on the same in their minds.
Stevens first points out how modern poetry differs from traditional poetry. The implication is that people are now questioning some fundamental aspects of intellectual constructs that used to be considered necessary and true. In particular Stevens questions tradition of reading the book of nature, of starting with religious presumptions and assuming nature communicates these ideas to humans. Other traditions had changed as well -- thoughts about the social roles of men and women and social propriety; thoughts about religious values and scientific discovery; nature and purpose of communication resulting from new inventions. These changes sometimes reflected, sometimes caused the development of new values. The rest of the poem records the change that occurs after traditional assumptions are uprooted.
The past was a souvenir because once people realized that certain traditions could be changed, they had no reason to believe those traditions...