“The Plain Sense of Things” by Wallace Stevens delicately explores a certain dualism that he finds in creativity by exploring the conflict between creativity and the lack thereof. He speaks of the point where creativity ends, where it dries up and becomes “inanimate,” but then goes on to point out how necessary that point of null inspiration is in the larger cycle of things. He uses the period between fall and winter, when the leaves have fallen and there is, as he explains, “A plain sense of things,” a “blank cold,” and a “sadness without cause” as a way to represent this stagnation of creativity that he views as a necessity. He writes the poem without rhyme, and while the lines seem to try to pull themselves toward ten syllables, there is little evidence of the iambic pentameter required for blank verse or any other meter. The poem is filled with redundancies and longer, awkward words (“a repetition / in a repetitiousness,” “required, as necessity requires,” “inanimate,” “inert,” “adjective,” etc.) that are hard for the reader to say and make the reader feel uncomfortable, leaving him/her thirsty for fluidity.
Wallace begins the poem with leaves. The words of the first line reference a point after the leaves have fallen; Wallace slyly drops them in our minds by referring to their absence and thus begins the poem with an image of life, of nature, of a moving energy. The reader is moved rather quickly away from that, however, as the leaves have already fallen, and the second line moves directly into the stagnation—this “plain sense of things”—after which the poem itself is named.
Then, in the third line, we are given a rather blunt definition of this “plain sense of things”: it is “an end of imagination.” Rather than dance around the possibly vague phrase, “a plain sense of things,” Wallace brings the reader right to the feet of the beast he plans to talk about, the point where imagination, creativity, and inspiration end. He goes on, by using the word “Savoir” in the next line, to give us an abstract version of what he elaborates later in the poem: this stillness or stagnation.
“Savoir,” is a French verb meaning “to know.” First, the word is in its infinite form; verbs in French are conjugated from their basic, infinitive forms to express action. “Savoir” in this form, is knowledge in the abstract, unmoving. The word holds only the possibility of knowing, an awareness of an ability to know — the verb, used as such, expresses no action. Second, he modifies the already stagnant “Savoir” with “inert.” This is a purposeful redundancy that places further emphasis on the lack of action. It is this stillborn verb that he uses to describe the “end of imagination,” pushing his redundancy even further by saying that the “end of imagination” is “inanimate” in this action-less act of knowing. Third, the word is foreign, which creates a certain amount of distance and adds to the poems...