American Culture · American Literature · Classic · Collection · Modernism · Poetry

Wallace Stevens

Variations on a Summer Day


Say of the gulls that they are flying
In light blue air over dark blue sea.


A music more than a breath, but less
Than the wind, sub-music like sub-speech,
A repetition of unconscious things,
Letters of rock and water, words
Of the visible elements and of ours.


The rocks of the cliffs are the heads of dogs
That turn into fishes and leap
Into the sea.


Star over Monhegan, Atlantic star,
Lantern without a bearer, you drift,
You, too, are drifting, in spite of your course;
Unless in the darkness, brightly-crowned
You are the will, if there is a will,
Or the portent of a will that was,
One of the portents of the will that was.


The leaves of the sea are shaken and shaken.
There was a tree that was a father.
We sat beneath it and sang our songs.



It is cold to be forever young,
To come to tragic shores and flow,
In sapphire, round the sun-bleached stones,
Being, for old men, time of their time.


One sparrow is worth a thousand gulls,
When it sings. The gull sits on chimney-tops.
He mocks the guineas, challenges
The crow, inciting various modes.
The sparrow requites one, without intent.


An exercise in viewing the world.
On the motive! But one looks at the sea
As one improvises, on the piano.


This cloudy world, by aid of land and sea,
Night and day, wind and quiet, produces
More nights, more days, more clouds, more worlds.


To change nature, not merely to change ideas,
To escape from the body, so to feel
Those feelings that the body balks,
The feelings of the natures round us here:
As a boat feels when it cuts blue water.


Now, the timothy at Pemaquid
That rolled in heat is silver-tipped
And cold. The moon follows the sun like a French
Translation of a Russian poet.


Everywhere the spruce trees bury soldiers:
Hugh March, a sergeant, a redcoat, killed,
With his men, beyond the barbican.
Everywhere spruce trees bury spruce trees.


Cover the sea with the sand rose. Fill
The sky with the radiantiana
Of spray. Let all the salt be gone.


Words add to the senses. The words for the dazzle
Of mica, the dithering of grass,
The Arachne integument of dead trees,
Are the eye grown larger, more intense.


The last island and its inhabitant,
The two alike, distinguish blues,
Until the difference between air
And sea exists by grace alone,
In objects, as white this, white that.


Round and round goes the bell of the water
And round and round goes the water itself
And that which is the pitch of its motion,
The bell of its dome, the patron of sound.


Pass through the door and through the walls,
Those bearing balsam, its field fragrance,
Pine-figures bringing sleep to sleep.


Low tide, flat water, sultry sun.
One observes profoundest shadows rolling.
Damariscotta dada doo.

One boy swims under a tub, one sits
On top. Hurroo, the man-boat comes,
In a man-makenesse, neater than Naples.


You could almost see the brass on her gleaming,
Not quite. The mist was to light what red
Is to fire. And her mainmast tapered to nothing,
Without teetering a millimeter’s measure.
The beads on her rails seemed to grasp at transparence.
It was not yet the hour to be dauntlessly leaping.

Wallace Stevens, Parts of a World (1942)


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