Floral Decorations for Bananas
by Wallace Stevens
Well, nuncle, this plainly won’t do.
These insolent, linear peels
And sullen, hurricane shapes
Won’t do with your eglantine.
They require something serpentine.
Blunt yellow in such a room!
You should have had plums tonight,
In an eighteenth-century dish,
And pettifogging buds,
For the women of primrose and purl
Each one in her decent curl.
Good God! What a precious light!
But bananas hacked and hunched….
The table was set by an ogre,
His eye on an outdoor gloom
And a stiff and noxious place.
Pile the bananas on planks.
The women will be all shanks
And bangles and slatted eyes.
And deck the bananas in leaves
Plucked from the Carib trees
Fibrous and dangling down,
Oozing cantankerous gum
Out of their purple maws,
Darting out of their purple craws
Their musky and tingling tongues.
I love the tone of this poem. The speaker seems to be a sort of interior decorator or a party planner: a guy like Tim Gunn exhorting his listener to “make it work.” The speaker is a sensualist who has evidently studied bananas in their native milieu.
I like his comparison between what the decorations should be: lush, round, feminine plums as opposed to what he sees: lascivious bananas which transform the women into shanks–their legs or even as cuts of meat. What a contrast to the primrose, purl and curl of the women who are seated around the decorous plums.
“What bad taste, you ogre,” proclaims Tim Gunn as the failed decorator is ushered off the show.
The women are as decorous as their surroundings; yellow is the wrong color, and the bananas are described almost luridly as they might well be found in nature. The use of the word “Nuncle” reminds me of King Lear being addressed by his fool: perhaps one could make a (strained) argument that the hint of female sexuality has got to be stopped before one gets involved with types like Goneril and Regan. The speaker, then, is a “fool” who is wiser than those around him.
Wallace Stevens is often playful in his writing and his descriptions. The banana, fraught with its Mae Westian implications, must be neutralized by more decorous flowers. The ogre who initially set the table is thinking of women as pieces of meat, with bangles and “slatted eyes”–I don’t know how to slat an eye, but it seems highly artificial and must consist of an artificial “beauty” treatment.