Wallace Stevens

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

The High-Toned Old Christian Woman


Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven.Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle.That's clear.But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets.Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones.And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince.But fictive things
Wink as they will.Wink most when widows wince.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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