James Longenbach: On "A Clear Day and No Memories"

. . . at the very end, Stevens was able to write a few poems that accepted silence instead of spinning a web to disguise it. In the quiet and luminous "A Clear Day and No Memories" Stevens turns away from everything once dear to him--the soldiers of two world wars, the dead he spent years mapping in genealogical charts, and the living whom he felt he loved too little.

These lines empty out the accumulation of a lifetime, even the existence of the poet's self. Yet "A Clear Day and No Memories" appeared a few months after Stevens said plainly in his essay on Connecticut: "it is a question of coming home to the American self in the sort of place in which it was formed." Two years before, Stevens had returned to Cambridge--one of the places in which he was formed--to see an exhibition at the Fogg Museum. On that day he did have memories, and he recalled the museum as a place whose only real public consisted of "young persons of honorable intentions." When Stevens was a student at Harvard in the year 1900, he visited the Fogg Museum to hear a speech by John Jay Chapman. Fired by Chapman's words, he wrote his editorial calling for all young persons to become "readily acquainted with political conditions." Looking back fifty years later, Stevens knew the haphazard fate of honorable intentions. In a poem that relinquishes the memories of soldiers in the scenery and the thoughts of people now dead, Stevens commemorates a life spent honoring the plain sense of things.

From Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Oxford University Press.

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Criticism Overview
Title James Longenbach: On "A Clear Day and No Memories" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James Longenbach Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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