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Peter Quince At The Clavier

Wallace Stevens

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Added by: bob m.
I believe the opening lines of this poem are a key to much of Stevens’ thought. There are two kinds of music: (1) the music that the player’s fingers make (the literal notes, which are what we normally think of as music) and (2) the effect that the sound of the notes makes on the listener, which he also calls “a music”. If one substitutes the word “poetry” for “music”, one sees that the word “poetry” can refer to both a poem (the literal words on the page) and to a particular experience, which can also be called “a poetry”. This notion recurs again and again in Stevens’ writing, i.e., that there is a poetry of words and a poetry of experience. In section XXII of The Man with the Blue Guitar, for example, when he says:
“Poetry is the subject of the poem,
“From this the poem issues and
“To this returns.”
he is saying that a poem issues from an experience – a perception, a sensation, a moment – that can itself be called poetry, a form of poetry, and that that experience becomes the subject of the poem. In fact, the poem (the words on the page) is a bridge that, if the poem is successful, enables the reader to share the poet’s poetic experience – the original “poetry” that gave rise to the poem. Among Stevens’ aphorisms can be found the following: “A poem is poetry expressed in words” and, again, “Poetry is the expression of the experience of poetry.”

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