Wallace Stevens: Miscellaneous

Early Stevens

George S. Lensing

"Communion with the divine could as well be effected in the natural world as in the Presbyterian church and, what Stevens [as a special student at Harvard] was coming to appreciate, the former could even be superior. His first step away from orthodoxy was accomplished and the poem he had written for [Harvard philosopher and poet George] Santayana the previous March was validated:

Cathedrals are not built along the sea;
The tender bells would jangle on the hoar
And iron winds; the graceful turrets roar
With bitter storms the long night angrily;
And through the precious organ pipes would be
A low and constant murmur of the shore
That down those golden shafts would rudely pour
A mighty and a lasting melody.

And those who knelt within the gilded stalls
Would have vast outlook for their weary eyes;
There, they would see high shadows on the walls
From passing vessels in their fall and rise.
Through gaudy widows there would come too soon
The low and splendid rising of the moon.

Wind, storms, waves lapping the seashore, and moonlight – the facts of the natural world – better appease the weary churchgoers than does the church itself.

From George S. Lensing, Wallace Stevens: A Poet’s Growth (Baton Rough, Louisiana S U P, 1986), 26-27.

Sonnet written by George Santayana

"Cathedrals by the Sea"

Reply to a Sonnet Beginning

"Cathedrals Are Not Built Along the Sea"

For aeons had the self-responsive tide
Risen to ebb, and tempests blown to clear,
And the belated moon refilled her sphere
To wane anew – for aeons since, she died –
When to the deeps that called her earth replied
(Lest year should cancel unavailing year)
And took from her dead heart the stones to rear
A cross-shaped temple to the Crucified.
Then the wild winds through organ-pipes descended
To utter what they meant eternally,
And not in vain the moon devoutly mended
Her wasted taper, lighting Calvary,
While with a psalmody of angels blended
The sullen diapason of the sea.

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Stevens ca. 1931

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Wallace Stevens in his garden in 1951 (his home is directly behind him).

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