In 1915, Wallace Stevens offered Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry (the magazine), several poems that included Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock. “She returned them… finding them ‘recondite, erudite, provocatively obscure… all with ‘a kind of modern-gargoyle grin to them,’” writes Stevens biographer Paul Mariani.
In Stevens’s poem, white night-gowns haunt a house, but none are any number of color combinations specified:
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
Nor are they “strange,”
With socks of lace / And beaded ceintures.
For added measure,
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
And in closing, a drunk old sleeping sailor can be found who
In red weather.
It’s a sundae of rippled parfums confected by a Harvardian aesthete.
A critic wrote of a Stevens play that “the purpose of this kind of entertainment… appears to be to say something that has no meaning at all with all the bearing of significance.” One shrugs assent. Stevens said, after all, that good poetry must resist interpretation.
The gargoyles’ grin persists in 2020. Ms. Monroe’s magazine furnishes much poetry catching tigers in red weather.
(c) 2020 JMN