The Plain Sense of Things
By Wallace Stevens
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.
I always forget about Stevens, a glacially-cold Modernist who hasn't been de-canonized by Wokesters yet because his writing is so opaque (don't worry, they'll get to this lawyer and insurance company executive eventually). The poem above is at once achingly melancholy and arch. "Silence of a rat come out to see" -- an eerie phrase. One could be forgiven for not getting past the first stanza, where his "savoir" brings reading to a dead stop. Possibly it's a synonym for "knowledge," but it's a verb in French and not usually unaccompanied by "faire" or "vivre" in English. This deliberate land mine puts the reader into a questioning frame for the remainder, as he or she lurches from unexpected simile to incongruous line break, to eventually contemplate The Great Pond.