Robert Buttel: On "Disillusionment of Ten O' clock"

Another poem which is like the work of the Imagists is "Here the grass grows" (1909, "Concert of Fishes"), which later become the third poem of "Carnet de Voyage." Framed by the grass and wind at the beginning and end, the vivid description of the fishes suggests perhaps the beauty and depth of life within the flux of nature:

Here the grass grows,

And the wind blows,

And in the stream,

Small fishes gleam,

Blood-red and hue

Of shadowy blue,

And amber sheen,

And water-green,

And yellow flash,

And diamond ash.

And the grass grows,

And the wind blows.

The Impressionistic use of color is similar to what some of the Imagists were up to, again concurrently, with Stevens, though unlikely to have influenced him directly. F. S. Flint’s "The Swan" and Allen Upward’s poem "The Gold Fish," both included in [the anthology of Imagist poems entitled] Des Imagistes, are examples of this; here is a stanza from " The Swan":

Under the lily shadow

And the gold and the blue and mauve

That the whin and the lilac

Pour down on the water,

The fishes quiver.

… Stevens must certainly have been discovering some of the same sources that inspired these poets.

One such source, at least for Stevens, was Japanese color prints; an entry in his journal for May 1909, reads: "Kakuzo Okakura is a cultivated, but not an original thinker. His ‘Idols of the East’ was interesting." Then shortly thereafter: "Japanese color prints: Pale orange, green and crimson, and white, and gold and brown. / Deep lapiz-lazuli and orange, and opaque green, fawn-color, black and gold." Earlier (March 18, 1909), he had written a letter to Elsie Moll in which he referred to Okakura and then listed the colors above plus these: "lapis blue and vermilion, white, and gold and green." From these lists emerged, following the orders of colors in the journal entry, this manuscript poem:

Colors

 

I

 

Pale orange, green and crimson, and

White, and gold and brown.

 

II

 

Lapiz-lazuli and orange, and opaque green,

faun-color, black and gold.

 

… In "Colors," as in "Here the Grass Grows," Stevens aimed at an orchestration of color values, with a vital clarity of description evident in the latter, and a contrast of overtones in the former.

From Robert Buttel, The Making of "Harmonium" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 68-71.

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Criticism Overview
Title Robert Buttel: On "Disillusionment of Ten O' clock" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Robert Buttel Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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