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

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The Planet On The Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003


Read poems about / on: poverty, sun, time, poem, remember

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  • Barry Middleton (12/25/2013 10:06:00 AM)

    I should add the Ariel also calls to mind the Ariel of Shakespeare's The Tempest. There Ariel is a spirit, once trapped but freed to a new service to a new lord. The poet is a servant to imagination and to the world. So Ariel to me represents the soul of every poet and mostly to Stevens himself but there is definitely a reason why he chose that name.

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  • Barry Middleton (12/25/2013 9:56:00 AM)

    I am no scholar but would not Stevens have been familiar with T.S. Eliot's Ariel Poems. I believe Stevens is definitely using Ariel to mean poet and himself but also there seems to be an allusion to Eliot. The second verse sounds Wasteland-ish. Both Eliot and Stevens can be very difficult to grasp, only half perceived. But certainly they also bring Some lineament or character, Some affluence, if only half-perceived... Of the planet of which they were part.

  • Richard Benton (7/22/2013 7:22:00 PM)

    Superb analysis by Gary Witt. Great job helping keep poetry alive. Stevens is amazing.

  • William F Dougherty (4/24/2012 3:03:00 PM)

    The Planet On the Table unlocks with two keys: Planet is Steven's Collected Poems; Ariel is the poet,
    Wallace Stevens.

  • Gary Witt (11/29/2009 10:22:00 PM)

    “Ariel” seems to me an odd choice for the name of the character/focus of this poem. The word comes from the Hebrew, meaning “Lion of God.” It is a name sometimes associated with Jerusalem. (See, e.g., Isaiah 29: 1-7) . There is an archangel named Ariel, the angel of healing, Earth, and creation. Ariel is also one of the moons of Uranus, but I’m afraid I do not know why Stevens would single it out here. He might have selected Ariel simply because it is extremely distant and remote. It is not the largest of Uranus's moons, but neither is it the smallest. One could argue, I suppose, that Ariel is one of the least-important features of our solar system. That is just a guess, however.

    Ariel’s poems are “makings of the sun, ” which hold special nostalgic value to the poet. They may have no value at all to anyone else (but see below, re their “affluence”) . Other makings of the sun, for example, are “waste and welter, ” or waste, confusion, and turmoil. Death is part of that waste and welter, for the “ripe shrub writhed, ” presumably in death. (BTW, I love the alliteration and internal rhyme of that line.)

    Ariel’s poems, however, are not only makings of the sun; they are also “makings of his self, ” because he and the sun “were one.” Unity and the philosophical concept of “the One” are themes found in various poems by Stevens. Cf., Continual Conversation with a Silent Man. The sun and a small moon at the edge of the solar system are “one.” Despite our impermanence, can we as humans be any less than a part of that “oneness? ” (This may also say something about the creative process, and the need for an artist to be in touch with the Jungian collective consciousness.)

    The idea that Ariel’s poems are makings of the sun imparts a sense of permanence to them. Stevens, however, undercuts this notion in the last two stanzas when he says, “It was not important that they survive.” It is only important that they bear some distinctive feature or characteristic (lineament) , some wealth or affluence “if only half-perceived.” Stevens (or rather, Ariel) is not seeking immortality in his work; only some degree of value “in the poverty of [its] words.” He will be content if his work is discovered by chance, and even partially understood. There is recognition of the smallness of Ariel’s life, the vastness of the universe, and the impermanence of anything human.

    Still, Ariel’s poetry does maintain some importance in the overall scheme of things. It is of the same importance as a planet. His work amounts to a planet on the table; nowhere near the physical size of a planet, but no less important.

    Note that it is the work that is important, not Ariel.

    This is one of the last poems contained in Stevens’ Collected Poems. It seems to be a fitting summation of the poet’s attitude toward, and aspirations for, his work.

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