Thursday Poem: The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain

Okay, so it’s clearly Friday, and this is late, but in fairness, this has been a completely crazy week for me. I took a bus from New York to Toronto, a near 11-hour trip of static nothingness but which at least featured some gorgeous scenery: so many trees, some still in full autumnal dress, others nude, crooked limbs scratching at the sky. We drove past cliffs and lakes and factories, across bridges, intersections, and through empty towns.

It was beautiful.

Now, three days after I took said trip, and after many shenanigans, I’m in Boston. Currently, I’m loitering in the library at Boston University, pretending I’m a student, while my friend, who is an actual student, goes to class, so I finally have time to share a poem. I actually only read it twenty minutes ago, with its eye-catching title in the side-bar of ‘related poems’ to the one I was reading at the time. I am talking about The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain, by Wallace Stevens, so without further ado:

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

This is a beautiful, simple poem that brilliantly evokes the nature of poetry itself. That is, that a poem reshapes your world. That it has its own interiority, that in writing it, you are carving out a space within yourself, a world for it to inhabit. Worlds within worlds within worlds, it is the most magnificent of matryoshka dolls. Here, Stevens is discussing the building of said world, climbing it to ‘pick his way among clouds’, and how once there at the summit, new meaning dawns in his life and we get that lovely melancholy last line, where he gazes down at the sea in full and final recognition of the loneliness at the heart of this solitary pursuit of art.

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