Martin Amis says:

History has speeded up in the last generation, and that is antithetical to poetry. What a poem does, what a lyric poem does, is stop the clock and say we’re going to examine this moment. Shh! Stop the clock. And people are too hyper for that now. They don’t like to stop the clock. The clock is running too fast for them.

And also, a huge part of poetry is self-communion. When you read a poem, you’re communing with yourself in a deep way. People don’t like that. Why do you think they’re on their phones all the time? They don’t like being alone. They’re like children; they get all frantic if they’re alone, they feel lost. So people go around mumbling to their associates. And it’s not an introspective culture. They talk about dumbing down, but there’s also such a thing as numbing down. They don’t want to be sensitive.

If he’s right, summer would be the most poetic season, with winter coming in second, and autumn and spring tied for last. Summer’s the quietest, most becalmed, most stop-clocked of seasons – and thus the likeliest to prompt in poet and reader the hushed arrested introspective examination that generates the lyric. As in:

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

*******************************************

Wallace Stevens never gets any verbal liftoff at all here. The poem’s a few repeated monosyllabic words, a few repeated phrases. A reader in a house becomes lost in her book - became the book - became, with its echo of calm, becalmed; the distance from became to book is not all that great… book is the first syllable of became.

Not just summer – that’s not quiet and calm enough – summer night. Even calmer, quieter. As James Agee writes:

High summer holds the earth.

So introspective, so private is the setting that not only the reader’s self falls away, but also the physical pages and binding of the book itself, so that its expressive being, its entire meaning, floats out onto – becomes – the night air. The summer night / Was like the conscious being of the book.

The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

But the reader still wants to lean — the word is so close to learn that one almost reads it like that — over the book, wants the words to stay on the page and to be a thing that the reader can in a scholarly analytical way shape into Truth.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.

So here the summer night would be not the pure emanation of human expressivity, or let’s be even more ambitious and say the music of the spheres, but rather the perfected form of an unassailable philosophical truth the reader has gleaned from leaning over the book.

The reading, truth-seeking mind finds perfect outward conditions for the generation of perfect truth from the page: The world entirely quiets itself to allow truth to assume language. The profound silence of the summer night, from this point of view, would be the unanswerable “articulation” of the truth of being.

The reader, in other words, is someone who demands a verbally articulated Truth that she must lean over, glean, and learn, rather than someone who simply accepts a naturally, earthily articulated conscious being.

The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The reader herself, as part of this calm world, is meaning – is the only meaning there is. The truth of this calm world is its pointless inarticulable pulsing being. The book has meaning, but the world only has being. The book, the reader of the book – these are meaning generators, meaning seekers. They project meaning into the world. But the world itself – which the utter silence and immobility of the summer night reveals – is meaningless.

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5 Responses to “A summer night.”

  1. Verbum* « Log24 Says:

    […] See also a related poetic meditation   from one for […]

  2. dmf Says:

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/massey-one/3845814

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, dmf!

  4. Shining Night* « Log24 Says:

    […] James Agee, quoted in a post by University Diaries linked to here on […]

  5. Quartet « Log24 Says:

    […] also a link from June 28, 2012, to a University Diaries  post discussing "a perfection of […]

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