Monday, January 13, 2003

A High-Toned Old Christian Woman Comments

Rating: 3.4

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,

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COMMENTS

Want to learn in aouther language

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Barry Middleton 17 November 2013

This poem is meant to amuse and to make a statement about Stevens' philosophy. Man can build a church and worship an idea of heaven or a stage and worship realty as fiction but it comes down to the same fictive sort of joke. Stevens states in the first line that poetry is the supreme fiction. The imagination is worth celebrating, in fact it is the only thing we might celebrate which is really in tune with the universe. I love the jovial hulabaloo because to me it is like Jove (god, Universe) laughing uproariously at man's pomposity and foolishness. Stevens ends the poem with winking and taking pleasure at shocking the high toned old Christian woman.

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Anthony Le Vere Sage 27 April 2011

Here's Wiki: Supreme fiction The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real. When it adheres to the unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect that it will ever have.[31] Throughout his poetic career, Stevens was concerned with the question of what to think about the world now that our old notions of religion no longer suffice. His solution might be summarized by the notion of a “Supreme Fiction, ” an idea that would serve as a fictive replacement for the idea of God, known to be fictive but willfully believed.[32] In this example from the satirical 'A High-Toned Old Christian Woman, ' Stevens plays with the notions of immediately accessible, but ultimately unsatisfying, notions of reality: 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.[33] The saxophones squiggle because, as J. Hillis Miller says of Stevens in his book, Poets of Reality, the theme of universal fluctuation is a constant theme throughout Stevens poetry: 'A great many of Stevens’ poems show an object or group of objects in aimless oscillation or circling movement.”[34] In the end, reality remains. The supreme fiction is that conceptualization of reality that seems to resonate in its rightness, so much so that it seems to have captured, if only for a moment, something actual and real. I am the angel of reality, seen for a moment standing in the door. ... I am the necessary angel of earth, Since, in my sight, you see the earth again, Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set, And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings, Like watery words awash; ... an apparition appareled in Apparels of such lightest look that a turn Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone? [35] Uh huh. Squiggle, squiggle, squiggle, eh, Mr Stevens? !

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Beverly Scofield 15 January 2008

There's hardly anything left to say, except that Gary Witt has captured the essence of Stevens' poem. I'm slowly working my way through his poems. So far 'Sunday Morning' is on the top of my list of favorites, but this one is a keeper. Anyway, thanks, Gary, for such a great review.

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Gary Witt 18 November 2006

Damn but I love this poem. The voice starts out imperious and high-brow, and then degenerates into a burlesque of squiggling saxophones and disaffected flagellants in parade. It seems to travel from logic to emotion and back again, almost becoming a rant. I can see the woman who is being subjected to this monologue become more and more agitated. And then the last two sentences (“But fictive things/Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.”) show the mind behind the voice. She’s either got to walk away in a huff, or smile at the wink. I also love the fact that this poem will send people straight to their dictionaries. So, let’s begin with a few definitions. A cithern is a stringed instrument similar to a mandolin. A peristyle is the interior courtyard or garden area of an ancient Grecian home. A masque is a stylized form of theater popular with European nobility in the 15th and 16th centuries. Flagellants were a Christian sect who believed they could purge themselves of sin through mortification of the flesh, by whipping themselves with various instruments. However, there are also some Shiite sects that practice flagellation. So, while in Stevens’ time the primary definition of muzzy was “hazy, clouded, or out of focus, ” it could also be a slang and derogatory expression referring to Muslims. While the latter brings a new dimension to the poem, and seems to be consistent with Stevens’ burlesque tone, I don’t know whether that definition was around at the time Stevens’ wrote the poem. One odd thing about this definition, though, is that is seems to be regional to Connecticut and New England, which is exactly where the vice president of the Hartford spent most of his later years. On the one hand we have the Christian view of the cosmos, constructed from the “moral law” or ethos and ultimately converting the conscience into “palms, ” meaning (IMHO) something earth-bound but stretching toward “heaven.” On the other hand we have a view of the cosmos (perhaps a Muslim view) constructed from the “opposing law, ” (perhaps the “natural law? ”) which converts our bawdiness, “unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last, ” into “palms.” Again, something earth-bound but stretching toward “heaven.” Two different views of heaven, but palm for palm we are where we began. So, allow, madame, that either view or both may be correct. Even though (or perhaps especially because) it makes you wince.

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