Henry W. Wells

Henry W. Wells: On "As You Leave the Room"

""As You Leave the Room" was apparently completed a year after "On the Way to the Bus" [reprinted in Opus Posthumous, p. 136]. Its first eight or nine lines may have been written as early as 1947, according to the conjecture of Samuel French Morse, editor of Opus Posthumous. But the last seven lines appear to refer specifically to "On the Way to the Bus." Stevens has again been calling his life as poet to account and wondering if it has not all been misspent in pursuit of an illusion. Or has his fondness for introducing the intellect into poetry reduced his work to the dryness of a skeleton? Are his poems merely the skeletons of poems, not true, living organisms of verse? At this point he recalls a few of his resilient pieces, throbbing with feeling, alive in flesh and blood. He remembers his sensuous "Credences of Summer," with its affirmation of fulfillment in all phases of experience, his poem on the hero, and similar pieces. Above all, he recalls "On the Way to the Bus" [which ends with "a perfection emerging from a new known, / An understanding beyond journalism, // A way of pronouncing the word inside of one’s tongue / Under the wintry trees of the terrace"], celebrating the illumination which he experienced on a winter morning only a few months before and the resilient faith in life, emotion, and clarity of thought there expressed. No, he concludes, neither he as a man nor his poems are failures, skeletons, the shadows or apologies for life. They are vital, residing at life’s core."