Wallace Stevens

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

Anecdote Of The Jar - Poem by Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Comments about Anecdote Of The Jar by Wallace Stevens

  • Lungelo S Mbuyazi (5/22/2018 7:41:00 PM)

    Very imaginative and thought provoking....nice write (Report)Reply

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  • (6/25/2016 10:37:00 AM)

    This reminds me of the two slit experiment in physics where, by placing detectors on the slits, by monitoring reality of incoming photons, they change their behavior. We think we are objectively observing the Universe, but our technology changes the circumstances of the experiment. The technology of the jar changes not only how we perceive nature, but also nature itself. This experiment was well known in Steven's time. (Report)Reply

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  • (6/25/2015 12:49:00 AM)

    Perhaps my favorite poet. But this poem lacks the music, the words, the beauty of poetry. To me, it is not a Zen story; and I don't get the joke. If it's a contrast between human creation and the natural world, it lacks the beauty and complexity of both. I've always found this poem disappointing. Others may know better. (Report)Reply

    (10/12/2018 12:53:00 PM)

    Maybe this will help:
    The student at the bedside of his dying Zen Master asks him: Master, is there anything further I should know?
    The Master replies: You have learned everything very well. However, there is one thing.
    The student, eager to learn, says: Oh please Master, tell me what it is!
    The Master replies: You still stink of Zen.

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  • (2/13/2012 12:53:00 PM)

    ZACH ZACH ZACH..........hi. (Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
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  • (2/13/2012 12:52:00 PM)

    Hi Zach. How ya doin? (Report)Reply

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  • (12/11/2009 5:24:00 PM)

    I'm thinking this is about the white man coming to Tennessee and sticking out like a jar on a hill, but having dominion over the wild natives and plants and creatures, and taming them. Like the jar, the white man put himself above nature, and didn't give back. (Report)Reply

    (6/21/2018 6:04:00 PM)

    You're not seeing the poem. You're looking at it through your own racism.

    13 person liked.
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  • (11/4/2007 9:45:00 AM)

    Actually this poem explains the relationship between art and the natural world. The jar changes how we perceive nature. (Report)Reply

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  • (12/19/2006 12:06:00 PM)

    This almost has the quality of a Zen story discussing the concept of 'emptiness.' Ordinarily a jar contains what is inside it. Here, the jar “contains” what is outside it. “It made the slovenly wilderness/ Surround that hill.” Moreover, “The wilderness rose up to it, / And sprawled around, no longer wild.” So the jar starts out as a demarcation point between the civilized world and the wilderness. But then, the very presence of the jar tames the wilderness, which is “no longer wild.” Indeed, the jar “took dominion everywhere.” In the opening stanza, Stevens mentions that the jar was round, and then he repeats that in the second stanza: it was “round upon the ground.” The geometric nature of the jar makes it unnatural or strictly man-made, and gives it dominion over what is natural and formerly wild. So at least in that sense, the jar does “contain” what is outside it. (BTW, I think this is different from a candy wrapper or a cigarette butt or other litter simply ruining the view. The poet-narrator “placed” it. The jar here contrasts with the “slovenly” wilderness. It is “tall and of a port in air.” It is not just litter.)

    The poem ends as a sort of joke, as so many Zen stories do. The jar “did not give of bird or bush.” Well, of course not. It will only be of use to a bird or bush if it contained something else, like water, seed, or the bird’s nest. Empty, it “contains” the wilderness. But if it has something in it, then it’s just there. It becomes part of what surrounds it.

    And then, in the last line, the jar is “Like nothing else in Tennessee.” Question: there are no other jars in Tennessee? Answer: well, no others that contain the wilderness.

    (8/30/2015 6:15:00 PM)

    This is an astute and sensitive reading of the poem. Thank you so much. It goes to show you that the reader brings as much to the poem as does the poet. Very inspiring when this happens.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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