chapter  4
14 Pages

Stevens Dancing: “Something Light, Winged, Holy”


Remember the “angel in his cloud / Serenely gazing at the violet abyss” in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”? He plucks on his strings and suddenly plunges downward on “spredden wings” growing “warm in the motionless motion of his fl ight.” This passage in the third and fi nal section of “Notes” (“It Must Give Pleasure”) is alive with motion, color, and sound. But it also turns upon a question, a provocative question, that initiates an exploration of the relations between three distinct modes of knowing-creative imagination, transcendent experience, and pragmatic existence:

The meditation on the angel’s fl ight with its lovely enameling of violet, lapis lazuli, and gold, slips from space into time, from Becoming to Being, to the “motionless motion” of the poet’s fl ight. As in the Platonic dialogues so treasured by Stevens, there is no simple “answer” to the question, only further questions. But the persistent questioning proves illuminating:

Every so often, like his own angel of the abyss, the poet leaps from his cloud of thinking, or mere Being, or from the practical planning of everyday life, and abandons his philosophical-rational perspective-just for a moment-to be fi lled “with expressible bliss.” Expressible bliss. At such a point, Stevens might break into a jig. Or morph into the jongleur. Or execute a pirouette in an otherwise serious essay, as we shall see. From the earliest to the very late period, in both his poetry and the letters, we can fi nd Stevens dancing on the page. Of course, because this is Stevens, sharp questioning often follows. The angel’s fl ight in “Notes,” for instance, prompts such a question: “Is it he or is it I that experience this?” The ecstatic moment, the twirling waltz, the joking and juggling are all too soon replaced-or perhaps protected-by the questioning mind.