“Lions in Sweden”: Happy Birthday, Wallace Stevens


William Stafford on Wallace Stevens:

If I Could Be Like Wallace Stevens

The octopus would be my model—
it wants to understand; it prowls
the rocks a hundred ways and holds
its head aloof but not ignoring.
All its fingers value what
they find. “I’d rather know,” they say,
“I’d rather slime along than be heroic.”


My pride would be to find out; I’d
bow to see, play the fool,
ask, beg, retreat like a wave—
but somewhere deep I’d hold the pearl,
never tell. “Mr. Charley,”
I’d say, “talk some more. Boast again.”
And I’d play the banjo and sing.


I like the many Stevensian elements Stafford has included, although the Octopus seems to point much more to Marianne Moore than to Stevens.   “I’d rather slime along than be herioc” is a good motto for the true artist, who is caught up in his work and not looking for accolades.  Stafford humbly chooses the banjo as his instrument; ceding the guitar, I think, to Stevens.octopus


Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

2 thoughts on ““Lions in Sweden”: Happy Birthday, Wallace Stevens”

  1. “…slime in the heroic..” Now, that is an image I won’t be forgetting soon!
    Rarely do I see blog posts referring to W. Stevens. The man had many issues I as a mere mortal have trouble understanding. But during my readings I found a great quote to emphasize how ‘this poem’ well stay with me….
    “Shakespeare and Dickinson compared a poem to perfume: “you cannot see the petals, the meadow, the flower….yet the scent is redolent of the vanished reality.” Thanks for his poem and Happy Birthday, Wallace!


    1. Thank you so much for your comment, N@ncy. I like Stevens a lot, and I was not even aware that he had “issues”. I don’t tend to get much into the biographies of great artists because the reality is generally on a lower plateau than the art—think of Mozart and his juvenile behaviour (which lasted long beyond his juvenile years, I think) compared with the celestial brilliance of his music.


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