The Reality of Imagination

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The Reality of the Imagination

Rebecca Smarcz

Poetry is a dichotomy of imagination and reality. It requires metaphors and abstract symbols as representatives of the poet’s imagination. These metaphors and symbols are depicted through concrete images in order to correlate with the reality that the reader and poet exist in. According to Roy Harvey Pearce’s essay Wallace Stevens: The Life of the Imagination, Stevens refers to himself as an “exponent of the imagination” and “As poet, he [Stevens] is…an ‘exponent of the imagination’…But, as human being, he finds that he must hold the imagination to concrete reality” (Pearce 117). Pearce, along with many other critics, believe that the diverging relationship between an imaginative world and reality is one of Stevens’ biggest concerns and struggles in his poetry. This battle between imagination and reality existed for Stevens in poetry as well as in his everyday life. In a letter to Ronald Lane Latimer in March 1937, Stevens wrote, “I have been trying to see the world about me both as I see it and as it is” (Beckett 117). This struggle between imagination and reality is extremely apparent in Stevens’ poetry, specifically in Evening Without Angels and A Fading of the Sun, both of which were published in the 1936 volume Ideas of Order. Stevens contrasts images of light and dark, sun and night, in Evening Without Angels and A Fading of the Sun in order to illustrate a dichotomy between imagination and reality as well as truth and individual perception. While Stevens establishes a strict opposing relationship in the beginnings of these specific poems, by the conclusion of each of the poems he recognizes that both imagination and truth are necessary components of art and life by the uniting imagination and reality as complements of each other, rather than divergent elements. He uses poetry as a medium to address the relationship between imagination and truth, and these poems are no exception. In the very beginning of A Fading of the Sun Stevens directly calls upon the audience to question the extremity between light and dark, and in turn, the conflict between imagination and reality. He begins with, “Who can think of the sun costuming clouds,” which directly asks the audience to imagine (Fading 1). The verb “to think,” while it can also convey an action dealing with factual knowledge, Stevens clearly uses it in this circumstance in an imaginative sense by the sun image he asks the audience to think of. The sun implies bright, openness, and light; therefore, it serves as a symbol for the imagination. With imagination there is room for interpretation and variations among individual imaginations. The double meaning of the verb “to think,” the factual versus the imaginative meaning, inherently adds to the struggle Stevens faces regarding imagination and reality when he writes poetry.

Furthermore, Stevens establishes an opposing relationship between light and dark throughout the first three stanzas of A Fading of the Sun. In the first stanza Stevens calls upon the audience to imagine “the sun costuming clouds.” The image of the sun “costuming,” masking, or covering up the clouds is unrealistic and the reader can only rely on his imagination to picture this image (Fading 1). The sun can never cover up the clouds because of their location in the earth’s atmosphere; they are always in front of the sun. Furthermore, due to their density and chemical makeup the sun’s light will always be muffled when it tries to penetrate even the thinnest cloud. If the audience does go along with Stevens’ image of the sun masking the clouds, they imagine a scene in which they can only see the brightness of the sun with no shadows or darkness, just pure light, pure imagination. However, with this intense sunlight, “people are shaken” (Fading 2). Here, Stevens comments on the issue of poetry and life only having imagination, completely excluding truth and reality. People are...
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