Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz, by Wallace Stevens

31 January 2012

The truth is that there comes a time
When we can mourn no more over music
That is so much motionless sound.

There comes a time when the waltz
Is no longer a mode of desire,  a mode
Of revealing desire and is empty of shadows.

Too many waltzes have ended. And then
There’s that mountain-minded Hoon,
For whom desire was never that of the waltz,

Who found all form and order in solitude,
For whom the shapes were never the figures of men.
Now, for him, his forms have vanished.

There is order in neither sea nor sun.
The shapes have lost their glistening.
There are these sudden mobs of men,

These sudden clouds of faces and arms,
An immense suppression, freed,
These voices crying without knowing for what,

Except to be happy, without knowing how,
Imposing forms they cannot describe,
Requiring order beyond their speech.

Too many waltzes have ended. Yet the shapes
For which the voices cry, these, too, may be
Modes of desire, modes of revealing desire.

Too many waltzes – The epic of disbelief
Blares oftener and soon, will soon be constant.
Some harmonious sceptic soon in a sceptical music

Will unite these figures of men and their shapes
Will glisten again with motion, the music
Will be motion and full of shadows.


Having read today’s new poem, I picked Stevens off the shelf this evening to read something outside the current handful of volumes I’m working through, to dip in to read a couple I don’t remember and I couple I certainly do. I had expected to post ‘Men Made Out of Words‘, and still might in the future, but instead tonight it was this poem that grabbed me again. Its disruptive third stanza is one reason to remember it, but the cloud-crowd, freed of suppression, is what brings me back. Perhaps also today the idea of the ‘harmonious sceptic’ seems fitting, following the revelatioTTn of popular philosopher Alain de Botton’s attempts to found a secular temple, and get beyond the ‘destructive’ atheism of Dawkins.

[Read in Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens, published by Faber & Faber]


One Response to “Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz, by Wallace Stevens”

  1. dianajhale Says:

    This is a lovely connection to the book I have just finished reading a few minutes ago! – A Life’s Music by Andrei Makine

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