Harmonium Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Harmonium was American poet Wallace Stevens's first book, published when he was 44 years old. It represents his complete poetic output up to that point in his life. It is now considered a masterpiece, one of the great contributions to literary Modernism. It is a mixture of pure, rational, philosophical thought, and imaginary nonsense-verse. It is striking in its diversity and includes some of Stevens' best known and most-loved poems: "Anecdote of the Jar,", "The Emperor of Ice Cream," "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle", "Sunday Morning", "The Snow Man" and perhaps his most famous poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."
When the book was published in 1923, critic Mark Van Doren wrote in The Nation that Stevens's wit "is tentative, perverse, and superfine; and it will never be popular." The past 100 years have revealed the inaccuracy of that prediction but judge for yourself. We believe that you will not be disappointed.
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"At night, by the fire,/The colors of the bushes/And of the fallen leaves,/Repeating themselves,/Turned in the room,/Like the leaves themselves/Turning in the wind," writes Stevens in "Domination of Black," a display of the beauty and eerieness of his work. And Stevens sticks to that in poems like "Infanta Marina" ("Her terrace was the sand/And the palms and the twilight"), the steamy beauty of "O Florida, Venereal Soil," or the eerie surreality of "Tattoo."
While lush, rich poetry was what suited Stevens the best, "Harmonium" also has some more minimalist poetry, such as the sparse "Gubbinal" ("The world is ugly,/And the people are sad"). And one of his rare strikeouts is the confusing "The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad." Even these are not bad, just not as good as they could be.
Virtually anyone can write poetry -- the trick is writing something that stirs the reader, or at least makes them think. Stevens had a rare gift for poetry, and that gift propelled him into fame during his own lifetime. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that he was one of the great poets of the twentieth century.
Stevens dips into both free verse and rhyming poetry, without sticking solidly to anything for any period of time. At times his poetry is just an intellectual pleasure, without any rhyme or rhythm. But in "Le Monocle De Mon Oncle," he creates a poem with an almost hymnlike quality -- solemn, ornate and thoroughly beautiful.
It's the descriptions that really make his poetry shine. He paints almost everything with color -- sapphire seas, gilt umbrellas, electric fireflies, rotted skulls, and how a "red bird flies across the golden floor." And with lines like "the light is like a spider./It crawls over the water," Stevens also gave his poetry a note of the dreamlike.
Richly surreal and beautiful, "Harmonium" is a remarkably polished first collection. Wallace Stevens wasn't yet at his peak in the years before 1923, but with "Harmonium" he became a must-read.
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That being said, many of Stevens's most famous (and best loved) poems are here in Harmonium: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, The Snow Man, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Sunday Morning, Anecdote of the Jar, ... and more.
Here is the eighth stanza of "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle":
Like a dull scholar, I behold, in love,
An ancient aspect touching a new mind.
It comes, it blooms, it bears its fruit and dies.
This trivial trope reveals a way of truth.
Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.
Two golden gourds distended on our vines,
Into the autumn weather, splashed with frost,
Distorted by hale fatness, turned grotesque.
We hang like warty squashes, streaked and rayed,
The laughing sky will see the two of us
Washed into rinds by rotting winter rains.
It is in many respects a high-falootin’, Ivy-school-educated, Euro-pandering early-twentieth American version of sincere, poetic mystical vision. But, oh, does it sing.
Difficult but rewarding. Harold Bloom not required.