John Vernon: On "Anecdote of the Jar"

There is a persistent strain in modern poetry that has a great deal to do with this sense of objects. The conclusion to Yeats's "Among School Children" is one example:

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, 

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

The answer to both questions is each possible answer. The chestnut tree manifests itself in each of its parts, as with the Tree of Life; and the tree can be a unity of these parts only because it is totally proliferated in each of them. Similarly, the dancer is and is not herself in the perfect unity of the dance. The dance is not a shape imposed upon her body; it is shape as act, as the unity of the dancer with her motion and her medium, her space, just as in modern physics a particle is perfectly united with its trajectory, its act.

Many of Wallace Stevens' poems are also about this sense of objects. His persistent theme is the relationship of seer, world, and object. In "Someone Puts a Pineapple Together" he asserts that each person sees in the pineapple a "tangent of himself," and that "the fruit so seen" is also "a part of the nature that he contemplates." In "Connoisseur of Chaos" be says that "the pensive man ... sees that eagle float / For which the intricate Alps are a single nest." The point of both poems is that the wholeness of the world is composed by a single object that opens upon it, the pineapple or eagle, and this unity of object and world in turn passes through the perspective that opens upon it, the someone who puts the pineapple together or "the pensive man" who sees the eagle.

This is why the jar in "Anecdote of the jar" can "Make the slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill." And it is why such an object as the jar couldn't possibly be an inert thing enclosed in its shape; it reaches out for the eyes of whoever is watching and with those eyes arranges the world around it--it infuses the world with itself and itself with the world by means of the point of view, the body, it is anchored in. Objects are like the glass of water in the poem of that title; they are both defined and released by their boundaries:

That the glass would melt in heat,

That the water would freeze in cold,

Shows that this object is merely a state,

One of many, between two poles.

The two poles are not only heat and cold but also the seer and the world. If objects are events as Whitehead says, they are events that mediate between the body of the seer and the world, events that carry that body into the world and the world into that body.

The sense of an object as an event rather than a thing goes hand in hand with the sense of form as act, as temporal form, which characterizes a great deal of modern poetry.

From The Garden and the Map: Schizophrenia in Twentieth-Century Literature and Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973. Copyright © 1973 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.


Title John Vernon: On "Anecdote of the Jar" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author John Vernon Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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