Eleanor Cook: On "Floral Decoration for Bananas"

… We sometimes miss the referential force of Stevens’ lines because we are unaccustomed to think of him as a descriptive poet. … I shall argue throughout that Stevens is sometimes a poet of simple, accurate, realistic description. For example, the following lines are a precise description of banana leaves and banana flowers just beginning to set fruit. The first time I actually saw this, I experienced what [art critic and historian E. T.] Gombrich calls inverted recognition, "the recognition not of reality in a painting but of a painting in reality":

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.

"Floral Decorations for Bananas" is something of a riddle poem. What are floral decorations for bananas? Banana leaves and flowers, tout court. Stevens’ descriptive accuracy does not dissipate the sense of sexual mixed feelings here, but it does complicate this sense. In the end, the poem’s earlier division between daintiness and bluntness widens into a division between "pettifogging" and "cantankerous," "cantankerous being the one nondescriptive word here.

From Eleanor Cook, Poetry, Word-Play and Word-War in Wallace Stevens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 69-70.

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Criticism Overview
Title Eleanor Cook: On "Floral Decoration for Bananas" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Eleanor Cook Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Nov 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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