Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday and Wallace Stevens Welcomes the Catholic Faith

I remember a graduate school class in modern American poetry that I took at Loyola. We studied Pound,Masters,Cummings, Dickens, Eliot, Moore, Cullen, Frost, Hughes, Jarrell, Ferlinghetti, The Lowells ( Bob and Amy), Macleish, Ginsberg and I especially liked Wallace Stevens - our Hartford Insurance Man!

Get this - obituary:

Poet and insurance lawyer. New York Tribune, New York City, reporter, 1900-01; law clerk for W. G. Peckham in New York City, 1903-04; admitted to the Bar in New York State, 1904; law partner with Lyman Ward, c. 1904; worked in various law firms in New York City, 1904-08; American Bonding Co. (became Fidelity and Deposit Co.), New York City, lawyer, 1908-13; Equitable Surety Co. (became New England Equitable Insurance Co.), New York City, resident vice-president, 1914-16; Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., Hartford, CT, 1916-55, became vice-president, 1934. Lecturer.

The grey man had an ear. Stevens was also a most traditionally innovative craftsman of internal rhyme. Though most celebrated for his lyrical feast The Idea of Order at Key West, or the clever Peter Quince at the Clavier and The Emperor of Ice Cream, Wallace Stevens had a deep theology that was the foundation of his poetic sensibility. Wallace Stevens, to eye and mind of most folks, was the very model of Sinclair Lewis 'Square' - A Genuine Babbit - member of the Lodge, Country Club Republican Insurance salesman. In his personal and professional and civic life Wallace Stevens was all those things and more -

In The High Toned Christian Woman we get a glimpse of the Thomas Aquinas Catholic theologian talking like a carnival barker - Wallace Stevens quietly and secretly was baptized into the Catholic Faith.

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven.Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.

Yes, indeedy! Puns and Fun! Nave for Knave. Kidding on the square!

I always liked this one:

The Sense Of The Sleight-Of-Hand Man

One's grand flights, one's Sunday baths,
One's tootings at the weddings of the soul
Occur as they occur. So bluish clouds
Occurred above the empty house and the leaves
Of the rhododendrons rattled their gold,
As if someone lived there. Such floods of white
Came bursting from the clouds. So the wind
Threw its contorted strength around the sky.

Could you have said the bluejay suddenly
Would swoop to earth? It is a wheel, the rays
Around the sun. The wheel survives the myths.
The fire eye in the clouds survives the gods.
To think of a dove with an eye of grenadine
And pines that are cornets, so it occurs,
And a little island full of geese and stars:
It may be the ignorant man, alone,
Has any chance to mate his life with life
That is the sensual, pearly spuse, the life
That is fluent in even the wintriest bronze.

The man is a master of imagery -fluent in even the wintriest bronze. Yet, the Wallace Stevens Foundation website ignores Stevens' embrace of the Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith stands anathema to Progressive intellectual sensibilities. It stands opposed to the Dewey/Hegelian three-card-monte theory that begs any and all questions to suit its purpose, Phi Betta Kappa was not allowed in Catholics universities until individual colleges bowed at its altar - cloaked as academic freedom - go along to get along.

The poet Wallace Stevens found solace and certitude in Catholicism. That moral and ethical foundation found expression in his bold imagery and rolling rhyme. Here is a letter from Wallace Stevens' confessor Father Hanley concerning the poets conversion.
Dear Janet:

I-The First time he came to the hospital, he expressed
a certain emptiness in his life.
His stay then was two weeks.

Two weeks later, he was in, and he asked the sister to send for me.
We sat and talked a long time.
During his visit this time, I saw him 9 or 10 times.
He was fascinated by the life of Pope Pius X,.
He spoke about a poem for this pope whose family name
was Sartori--- ( Meaning tailor)
At least 3 times, he talked about getting into the fold--
meaning the Catholic Church.
The doctrine of hell was an objection which we later
got thru that alright.

He often remarked about the peace and tranquility that
he experienced in going into a Catholic Church and
spending some time. He spoke about St. Patrick's Cathedral
in N.Y..
I can't give you the date of his baptism.
I think it might be recorded at the hospital.
He said he had never been baptized.
He was baptized absolutely.

Wallace and his wife had not been on speaking terms for
several years.
So we thought it better not to tell her.
She might cause a scene in the hospital.

Archbishop at the time told me not to make his (Wallace's)
conversion public, but the sister and the nurses on the
floor were all aware of it and were praying for him.

At the time--I did get a copy of his poems and also
a record that he did of some of his poems.
We talked about some of the poems.
I quoted some of the lines of one of them and he was
He said if he got well, we would talk a lot more and
if not--he would see me in heaven.

That's about all I can give you now.

[Signed] God's Blessing
Father Hanley

That is plenty Padre. Today, at Sacred Heart Church in Morgan Park of Chicago, the devout and tough piety that graces the people in pews will stand long as the crucible of Christ's love for Man will be dramaticall read by Father Gallagher and the two lectors. The palms and hosannas that we hypocrites lay at the Savior on the Donkey remind us that they will be burnt offerings after this year's cycle. We will burn the palms of last year and begin again to understand what Wallace Stevens understood - the palms are prelude to the Passion.

No comments: