Jacqueline Vaught Brogan: On "The Idea of Order at Key West"

Contrary to most criticism on this poem, it is not the supposedly eloquent and elegantly figured muse nor the assertion that "when she sang, the sea / Whatever self it had, became the self / That was her song, for she was the maker" (Stevens 1954, p. 129) that is ultimately the most striking about this poem, but rather the utterly self-conscious way in which "she" is exposed or appropriated within the fiction of the poem as a figure for Stevens himself and his "rage to order." This particular circumscription may well be the most revealing mark of the nature of the "idea of order" Stevens has in mind: at the specific moment that he breaks into the text, abruptly addressing Ramon Fernandez with the question about the "Mastering" of the night and the "portioning of the sea" (thus implicitly questioning the very idea of order that he is positing), Stevens places himself in a textual and hierarchical order above nature, above friend, and above the muse as artificer, inscribing himself as the author/authority of the world in which he sings. Here logo- and phallocentric assumptions of order coincide, forming a textual crux that glosses over the apparent exposure of the fictionality of the poetic word. It is not without significance that the muse is always referred to in the past tense: she literally is not present in the text. Thus, although the conclusion of the poem may imply that words are much like Derrida's "trace" (only "ghostly demarcations," even de-marcations), the tone of this poem is one of unwavering faith in poetic/phallic dominance. There is none of that uncertainty, reticence, or prolonged and painful questioning so characteristic of Bishop's verse.

From "Elizabeth Bishop: Pervesity as Voice," inĀ Elizabeth Bishop: The Geography of Gender. Ed. Marilyn May Lombardi. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.


Title Jacqueline Vaught Brogan: On "The Idea of Order at Key West" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jacqueline Vaught Brogan Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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