(posted Wednesday, July 30)
To hear Robert Pinsky read “The Pleasures of Merely Circulating,” click here.
The suave cadences of this poem, flirting with parody and nursery rhyme, show what a master of traditional meter Wallace Stevens was–that mastery may have helped him to write free verse that is so unmistakably verse. The suavity, and the serious fear of meaningless mortality, includes the bawdy joke, which is also a philosophical joke, about Mrs. Anderson and the paternity question. What is philosophically arbitrary might in another sense be a matter of promiscuity. I believe that this poem is funnier, and more profoundly funny, if it is not psychologically played for laughs by the reader. (By a similar principle, Keaton did not rely on whistle slides or tuba blats as background music.)
The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.
Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?
Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish,
But that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.