Wallace Stevens

(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

Nomad Exquisite


As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides of green sides,

And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, comes flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Patrick Pryce (10/1/2012 10:44:00 AM)

    THERE IS AN ERROR IN THIS TRANSCRIPTION:

    It should read:

    So, in me, come flinging
    Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.


    Please take note.

    Thank you. (Report) Reply

  • Beverly Scofield (1/15/2008 8:01:00 PM)

    I'm disheartened. A flick of my wrist made me lose an entire comment. And it was so scholarly, too. So, I have to back up and recreate, but my heart is no longer in it. (I guess that's what 'disheartened' means, come to think of it.

    Again, your comment, Gary, is a thing of beauty in itself. My two comments are:

    1) Stevens give his plantlife an almost animalistic nature by using such muscular terminology as 'the big-finned palm' and the 'green vines angering for life.' One can almost imagine them clawing their way out of the primordial ooze into the 'immense dew of Florida.'

    2) I am struck by the way he twists the meaning of 'flinging' into a configuration that makes the mind stop and say, 'What? ' The process of flinging involves sending something flying away from the person saying 'me.' When Stevens says,

    'So, in me, comes flinging
    Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.

    he presents us with an image that is impossible to visualize, even metaphorically. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (1/24/2007 11:40:00 AM)

    I find this poem very curious. Just as the vast presence of water (immense dew) in Florida brings forth life, and beauty that is praised by everyone who beholds it (hymn and hymn) , that same humid, fecund environment also causes the poet-narrator to conjure up mental images of “forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.”

    The “immense dew” brings to mind an image that includes flames and the flakes of flames? What’s with that? I mean, for starters, why not some other element such as earth or air? (But all right, let’s just say there’s a dichotomy between fire and water and leave it at that.) Essentially, what some would view as a scenic paradise—a place with such beauty that it would strengthen a belief in God—calls to the narrator’s mind vague images of flames and destruction.

    The narrator does not sound like a “nomad exquisite.” There seems (to me anyway) to be a degree of sarcasm or irony in the title. More likely, it is the “beholder beholding” who is the nomad exquisite. There is a definite separation between the “beholder beholding” and the “me” in the second to the last line. They don’t appear to be the same person, but the “me” seems to be quoting (sarcastically) the “beholder” from the very beginning of the poem.

    Stevens may be taking a poke at the Florida tourists who stare, gaga, at the palms, the flowers, the ocean, and so forth. Do you suppose the poem is a local’s parody of tourists—the exquisite nomads?

    The use of the words “forms” and “flames” in the last line leaves a great deal to the imagination. I suppose the word “forms” could be used in the same way Plato used it (see “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself”) . On the other hand, to Stevens, “forms” could refer to insurance forms, and the clutter of his occupation at the Hartford. Seen from the perspective of Key West, the vision of a bonfire of forms or a burning desk or file cabinet in Hartford might give him a great deal of enjoyment. Likewise, the idea of “flinging forms” may have brought a smile to his face. It could be that the humid atmosphere of Florida causes a new employee at the Hartford to want to chuck his job and go native.

    To me, the poem sounds a little like the opening of a bad travelogue, but deliberately so. Again, a parody. The words appear a little overdone, even pretentious, in presenting “the immense dew of Florida” on the big screen at last. It is as if Stevens were mocking the language of the “lecturers” who at the time—the poem was written in 1919—brought their silent travel films from city to city and provided their narration live. Here, that narration appears on the one hand pretentious, and on the other inarticulate. (This from a man whose craftsmanship was and remains beyond question.) The “immense dew of Florida” seems like an over-blown, sentimental way of saying the place is humid. Yet in the second stanza the “lecturer” lapses into inarticulate redundancy: hymn and hymn, beholders beholding, green sides and gold sides of green sides. It seems grand, but rings empty; as if the landscape has not actually left the lecturer breathless, but rather the lecturer knows he is supposed to be left breathless by it and is merely fulfilling that duty.

    Cut to shot of alligator.

    The idea that the natural beauty of a landscape or an area could cause people (in this case the “beholder”) to write hymns is not surprising. Many people take the natural beauty of the world as evidence that God exists. I suspect, however, that Stevens would disagree with that premise. He has chosen to juxtapose “hymn and hymn” sung in praise of the Florida landscape with “blessed mornings” that are “meet” (which I take to mean “suitable” and with a possible pun on “meat”) for the eye of the young alligator. It’s not just a pretty landscape; it is a dangerous one as well. The contrast between the holiness of hymns and the reptilian brutality of nature is jarring. It also calls to mind the line in Sunday Morning, “Death is the mother of beauty.” And, although he doesn’t couch it as such, bringing together natural beauty and its “suitability” for the alligator might also be a reference to “the problem of evil.” In other words, how does one rationalize the existence of evil—or even natural brutality—with the presence of God?

    The line “Forms, flames, and the flakes of flame” sounds primitive or primordial to me. Of course, it could be a vision of hell, with “forms” suffering the fires of eternal damnation and all that. Maybe the “me” of the poem is worried about his own mortality. Or it could remind the reader of a ceremony or dance performed around a fire by some primitive civilization. Stevens could be saying that the same things that cause some people today (who behold the Florida scenery) to write hymns and believe in God have previously caused earlier civilizations to create and engage in other rituals. And ultimately, it could be that Stevens equates a belief in God to a belief in the effectiveness of those primitive ceremonies or rituals. (Report) Reply

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