Friday, April 27, 2007

The imperfect is our paradise

The Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens:
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
It is reasonable to ask, why, in a cyberspace teeming with millions of blogs, I sit here in a quiet corner of the house or College Commons each morning and compose these few words. I click "Post" and off they go to God knows where. I am grateful that they are read, but it is not to be read that I write.

I write because I have reached that age -- seventy years -- when I look around me and see a slovenly tangle of a life, a serendipitous stumbling from A to B. I know where I am but I haven't a clue how I got here. I stand on such a summit as I have found and see no trace of a path. I remember briars, and mire, and sunny glades, and freshets, and deep pools. I recall meeting strangers. I don't recall map or compass.

Each of these posts is a jar of sorts, placed on a hill amidst the sprawl, in the deeply Catholic sacramental hope that it will assert a dominion, make order out of chaos. I'm looking for that single sentence that will summarize -- something as glassy clear and shapely as those wide-mouthed jars that lined the shelves on my grandmother's back porch pantry in Tennessee, and which may have been the inspiration for Stevens' poem.

I go back to my dog-eared and well-thumbed Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, especially those poems like The Idea of Order at Key West, The Poems of our Climate, and Add This To Rhetoric that I discovered as a young man -- scraps of paper in a trackless wilderness, covered with words, flawed words, stubborn sounds, but somehow full of promise, evidence that someone had gone that way before and perhaps, just perhaps, reached a place of repose. Here is what I learned from Stevens, the single sentence that will summarize: "There never was a world for her/ Except the one she sang and, singing, made."