Charles Berger: On "The Plain Sense of Things"

Yes, grim reality, Stevens seems to say in "The Plain Sense of Things": an unhappy people in a happy world, we are bent by "this sadness without a cause." Weighed against his long poems of even the recent past and their large rallyings of the spirit, "The Plain Sense of Things" seems almost to court the sense of being too weak to live up to past victories. Stevens indulges in the great poet's right of retractio and disparagement: "The great structure has became a minor house"; "a fantastic effort has failed." In a number of his last poems, Stevens seems intent on disparaging his career, as if to test the resiliency of his poetry to withstand attack. Can his work survive the onslaught of its maker's revulsion? Part of the test involves discovering whether his poetic spirit still lives. Is the career over or not? And if it is, can the poet rejoice in past power which is now denied him? Writing against the weight of his own past accomplishments, Stevens needs to disparage what he has done if he is to go on and do more. As an outsider, seemingly hostile to the institutions of poetry throughout his odd career, Stevens always had to push on and validate his identity as a poet on a day-to-day basis. Nearing the end of his career, Stevens is even more reluctant to entrust his identity to what he has already fashioned. So these late poems often have to clear new space for themselves at the cost of disparaging or revising the earlier work. Surveying the withered scene in "The Plain Sense of Things," Stevens recoils from the exertion it would take to find energy in the scene, even though that exertion in the presence of the minimal so often marked his characteristic triumphs of the past.

From Forms of Farewell: The Late Poetry of Wallace Stevens. University of Wisconsin Press.


Title Charles Berger: On "The Plain Sense of Things" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Berger Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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