Wallace Stevens


One of Frye’s favorite poems, “The Snowman,” read by the author

Today is Wallace Stevens‘s birthday (1879-1955).

Frye, in various interviews, on the imperfect as paradise:

Wallace Stevens says “the imperfect is our paradise.”  And that means that any paradise you would try to reach would be an anticlimax.  The real paradise is something you can dream of but it’s no longer there.  (CW 24, 882)

When Stevens wrote that, he was writing a poem called Sunday Morning, in which a woman stays home from church and tries to rationalize the fact that she doesn’t want to go to church.  One of the things she comes up with is the feeling that you cannot imagine a complete happiness or complete beauty apart from change, and that in the world as we know it, change ends inevitably in death.  It is true that the imperfect is our paradise, but most religions, including Christianity, say that all change doesn’t have to be a change in the direction of death.  (CW 24, 561)

The same thing happens when in Wallace Stevens I discover the line “the imperfect is our paradise” — here I immediately understand that a paradox is involved between the word “imperfect” in the negative sense, in the sense of “something less than perfect,” and “imperfect” in the sense of openness, of continuity.  That kind of polysemy, I think, is imbedded in the whole conception of figurative language.  The critic cannot deal with literature unless he has at least some idea about the different viewpoints that can be gathered around any critical theme, exemplified, among other ways, by the different referential contexts of the same word. (CW 24, 1085)

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