On Reading Wallace Stevens with Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary

 Poetic allusion must be “recognizable not only to a coterie of poets and gentlemen scholars, but to a whole culture as well.”

John Hollander


My diction is ary

Sitting pretty

upon this Arête

I confess I am higher toned

Than your Old Christian Woman.


But in the end (when I descend)

A happy Rabbi in an unhappy world)

Humbled by your drow and ord of word


I look up:




Muzzy (my favorite: muddled and fuzzy?)

 So I translate:

 Poetry is the supreme fiction, Madame.

Take the moral law and make a nave of it

And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,

The conscience is converted into palms

Like windy citherns


(Spellchecker rejects citherns;

demands citterns, Renaissance guitar)


hankering for hymns.

We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take

The opposing law and make a peristyle


(Which I guess is an Isaiah atrium

When the world becomes Temple.)


And from this peristyle project a masque


(a masquerade?

also danced to windy citherns?)


Beyond the planets. Thus our bawdiness,

Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,

Is equally converted into palms,

Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,

Madame, we are where we began.


 (And Sir Stevens

The fictive sound of one hand clapping

Is the supreme oriental fiction

Where words ascend and descend

So we give you the palm

To hear the sound of two.


Therefore, muzzy minds

And wizened widows, singing in a higher fictive

And a wink and a wink and no wince.)