Wallace Stevens

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

Bantams In Pine-Woods - Poem by Wallace Stevens

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackmoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

Comments about Bantams In Pine-Woods by Wallace Stevens

  • Barry Middleton (11/18/2013 5:30:00 AM)

    Can we agree that Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan is a poet? Moreover a very successful one. And that at least Stevens sees him as fat in some sense, pompous, puffed up more than just a bit. The Chieftain may be a particular poet or just successful, egocentric poets in general. Stevens wants him to stop. Or Stevens wants himself to stop being compared or comparing himself to the Chieftain. The exact center of the poem makes its point which is you are you and I am me. I think Stevens is saying he does not and will not imitate the Chieftain. He admits he is an inchling compared to the 10 foot poet but goes on to say he does not fear him and further that he will use what he has, the pine trees to defend himself if needed. The reference to Appalachia reminds me of Anecdote of the Jar where Tennessee is the wilderness. I believe Stevens is saying I am carving new paths in the wilderness and I am a tough little bantam so don't mess with me. And not only does he not fear the fat poet, he also does not fear his hoos - those critics who call out hoo, hoo, hoo as praise. Today we would say woot woot., woot! Stevens loved inventing onomatopoeic words. Finally Ifucan and Azcan seem to echo if you can and as can. Stevens could more plainly said - hey big fat poet, if you can or if you please - stop - do as you can but I will me myself and my poetry will be unique which it certainly is. (Report) Reply

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  • (11/13/2009 12:07:00 AM)

    fun, absolutely....

    don't know that I've ever read a conjecturely 'review'...and enjoyed it so thoroughly....

    thank you, Mr.Stevens...thank you, Mr. Witt........

    ah, if I wuz a publisher....
    (Report) Reply

  • (5/3/2009 1:26:00 PM)

    WHY did Wallace Stevens swear in this Poem? Alas, the sad nature of the race of man. (Report) Reply

  • (3/3/2007 3:16:00 PM)

    This is a fun little poem. It almost has a cartoon quality about it. Written in 1922, around the same time as “High Toned Old Christian Woman” and “Emperor of Ice Cream, ” it combines the nonsensical with the lyrical in a way that links it to some of Lewis Carroll’s work (the opening stanza is almost as much fun to recite as “Twas brillig and the slithey toves”) . It also uses an irreverent, sardonic tone that I have not seen (well, certainly not to this degree) in other poems by Stevens, particularly his later work. For example, compare this poem to “Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks.”

    Here in “Bantams” we have an “inchling” who tries to pick a fight with (or perhaps fend off a perceived attack by) the Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan. The inchling demands that the Chieftain halt, curses him, accuses him of being self-centered and fat (perhaps even…cocky?) , tells him to “begone” (a combined word that sounds a little like a chicken trying to talk—begawk!) , informs him that a thoroughly ticked-off inchling “bristles in these pines, ” is prepared to use those pines as a weapon, and is not afraid of him or his “hoos.”

    The premise of the poem raises a whole series of questions. We’re never informed of the reason why the inchling is so angry, what the Chieftain has done to deserve the inchling’s scorn and wrath, how the inchling manages to wield those “tangs, ” or what the outcome of the (surely imminent) battle will be. (Frankly my money’s on the inchling, but I was always a sucker for the long shot.) Perhaps more basic: who is the Chieftain? What is he doing in the woods? Where is Azcan (especially in relation to Appalachia) ? And probably most confounding of all, what’s an inchling?

    Is the inchling simply a Lilliputian bantam? Is it a newly hatched chick? Are there sexual connotations to the term? (BTW, how can there not be sexual connotations when we’re dealing with a “universal cock” and “Appalachian tangs? ” I mean really.) Is it possible that the inchling bristles and is bellicose because of constant comparisons being raised between himself and the ten-foot poet; comparisons in which the inchling invariably is shown up as being inferior?

    Some commenters have equated Stevens with the inchling and Ralph Waldo Emerson with the Chieftain. Personally I don’t buy it. First of all, Stevens was born in Reading, PA, which is just on the edge of what could be called Appalachia. At the time he wrote the poem, he was safely ensconced in Hartford, “a fir piece” from any Appalachian tangs. So I don’t know why—or if—Stevens would identify himself with that region. As for Emerson, none of the pictures I’ve seen of him would indicate that he was at all fat, nor do any of his biographies say that at some point in his life he became complacent (which would be the intellectual equivalent of being fat) .

    When I first read the poem, I pondered the meaning of “hoos” at the very end, and thought it might be a reference to the University of Virginia (which might also account for the “Appalachian tangs”) . If that’s the case then perhaps the Chieftain is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe, who graduated from Hooville. I’m told, however, that ‘Hoos (short for Wahoos) only came into use in the 1940s, well after the 1922 publication of this poem. As a result I’m left with the conclusion that “hoos” are simply balls, stones, or “cojones.” I note that the inchling fears them not.

    Moreover, I don’t see Stevens setting up a measuring contest between himself and Edgar Allan Poe. That just doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

    One of Stevens’ influences was Ezra Pound, who once called Walt Whitman “an exceedingly nauseating pill.” On the other hand, in 1916 Pound also wrote “A Pact” in which he addresses Whitman directly: “We have one sap and one root - /Let there be commerce between us.” Could “Bantams” be a rejection of any similar pact? Could the use of “Appalachian tangs” as a weapon be in counterpoint to Pound’s assertion that Whitman and Pound “have one sap and one root? ”

    Evidently Stevens once got into an actual fistfight with Ernest Hemingway. In addition, Stevens at one point (presumably before the fight) had labeled Hemingway “one of the most significant of living poets.” Of course, both of these events were post-1922. If it occurred, the fight would have taken place in 1936 in Key West. The poem certainly predates any kind of encounter between the two men. In 1922, Hemingway was just starting his career. In January of that year he had just quit his job as a reporter in Michigan and had begun living in Paris with his first wife. Stevens might have heard of him, but certainly had not had a chance to know him, much less revile him. Still, I find a few points interesting. For example, Hemingway’s beard would compare favorably with “henna hackles.” That entire “H” alliteration could attach to Hemingway’s name. Hem’s girth would warrant cries of “Fat! ” And the sexual comparisons would probably make more sense than when applied to other poets, particularly Poe. In addition, in the third stanza Stevens says “Your world is you. I am my world.” When you become a ten-foot poet among inchlings, you not only get fat, but your world starts to define you, not the other way around. The inchling, on the other hand, is able to define its own world. The inchling is free; the ten-foot poet (much like Hemingway in his later years) is a prisoner of his own persona or his own reputation.

    Some other commenters have said that the Chieftain represents universal reality while the inchling represents individual imagination. If so, I’d kind of hate to see a fight between them. Things could get ugly.

    I want to ask some other questions here, but I don’t want to offend anyone. Beginning with the premise that Stevens frequently spoke in metaphor, I’m wondering if this poem could be an imagined speech by a female genitalia directed to (and rejecting the advances of) a male genitalia. Could the name Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan be a reference to male self-centeredness, opportunism (get it if you can, whenever and wherever you can) , and libido? Could that name also be a reference to a possible failure to perform (get it up if you can) ? Could the caftan of tan be a condom (renowned in the 1920s for their clumsiness and lack of reliability) ? Could the henna hackles be pubic hair? It certainly seems clear that the Chieftain has a very high opinion of himself; he behaves as if the sun were blackmoor to bear his blazing tail. Perhaps it is the Chieftain’s presumptuousness and the clumsiness of his advances that have insulted the inchling. Could the cries of “Fat! ” be a reaction to those advances, and a reference to male laziness and complacency with regard to romance in general? Could the sentence “I am the personal” be a reference to a feminine point of view, juxtaposed against the lack of introspection—or lack of awareness—that characterizes your “typical man” who is portrayed here as clumsy, inept, and intellectually fat? Could the sentence “Your world is you” refer to a perceived male preoccupation with things sexual (the notion that men are constantly thinking with their Iffucans) ? If so, could “I am my world” refer to a more insular, introspective attitude on the part of the inchling, and perhaps a woman's natural concern over who she lets into her world or into her pines? Does it sound like Iffucan is truly worthy of that privilege? Could the epithet “You ten-foot poet among inchlings” imply that there has been some bullying going on? Could the fact that the inchling “bristles” in these pines mean that the woman is more than insulted by the Chieftain’s advances—is there, for example, some excitation in her “bristling? ” Is she rejecting him despite the excitement she feels? It is clear that the inchling “fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.” So she feels confident that she can defend herself. Is it possible the Chieftain will resort to rape? Is she also willing to use sex as a weapon?

    And is there any significance to the fact that Stevens chose a bantam—one of the smaller, more diminutive breeds—to portray the universal cock?

    Answer: I dunno. I’m just asking.
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Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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