This eagle is funny because he’s basically an idiot Virgil. Unlike in Dante’s Divine Comedy when Virgil was a helpful guide for the poet, this eagle is more of a know-it-all that Chaucer finally has to say that he’s just no longer interested in learning anything new from him.
There is more to the joke, however. As the eagle explains how the House of Fame receives its news via broken air – speech and noise break the air and that travels up to the realm of the House of Fame – then speech and sound are not really differentiated. In fact what a person says vs. them farting would be of equal importance, thus speech is basically a fart.
And while this is typical Chaucer humor, it’s deeper than it seems because he’s also alluding to the possibility that prayer, at least as it is intoned, is also about as valuable as a fart. Private prayer, silent prayer – thus (hopefully) earnest prayer – is usually thought, but public proclamations of virtue and showy prayers hold the same importance as flatulence: shitty air / shitty wind.
Another observation is who is this god of love Chaucer is referring to? Does he mean Venus? Well, no because here the god is masculine. Does he mean Cupid? Or does he actually mean Jesus. God is, after all Love thus in the 13th century evoking Jesus would give the poet the moral authority he wants to write imaginatively about love.
A Time To Eat
If A Waist was about a clock or time, then now it’s time to eat, but here it seems like a ritual that just always happens at the same time everyday. And tardy makes me think of tart – perhaps a desert she didn’t get?
“A star glide” is a nice way to think about the stars moving across the night sky, or maybe a shooting star?
I think of a nail when she writes “Object that is in wood”, but could she also be thinking more about the essence of wood that makes it pine? And does wood pine for anything? Does the wood pine for the nail to connect it to something new?
But then is she speaking of a clock: “time” and the crystal face of the clock? Is she talking about a waste of time?
Is the petticoat ruined because it has an ink stain? Why a disgrace? Is the rosy charm her demeanor: having a rosy charm?
Maybe this is the point where after reading for hours I should stop because my mind just can’t make the leap anymore. It just becomes gibberish after awhile. It’s too obtuse and I can’t find a way to connect to the poet.
Sudden spoon? Same in no size?
I imagine her being somewhere cold and needing a cup of tea (string) and just wanting to lie down and sleep.
There is an element of bravery in reading Stein. By not understanding her we are forced to look into ourselves for meaning and see what gets dredged up. I worry about being “wrong” about her poetry, but her freedom of grammar and language gives us the freedom to think freely. She embodies misunderstanding because understanding another person is impossible. How can we really know them?
Who isn’t trying to find the meaning of anything? These poems, for example, are images of so many sudden objects.
Is she drawing the curtains? Is she drawing a breath? Is she drawing a bath? What is this drawing?
Is she saying the papers only publish uncourteous news and not the courteous?
I can’t for the life of me figure out why she keeps bringing up the Japanese. Is this some “oriental” fetish, some idea of Asiatic cultures being delicate and / or fragile?
I do feel like I get an interesting image of an ancient, spider-cracked piece of china that is ready to fall apart with the slightest shock. Or could she be talking about beauty and how just one piece of hair being out of place could “ruin” the whole effect?
I’m imagining a manly butcher sawing away at a piece of meat. But there is something sexual in this imagery, like a blind fumbling around in the dark as the man agitates the woman (this could be good or bad). Is this how she thinks of sex? She was a lesbian after all and so the idea of sex with a man could be something she might describe this way?
Or is it fair to even bring sexuality into it. We don’t read too much into poets who aren’t LGBTQ, so why do it to her? Should it ever matter? Isn’t just sex two pieces of meat agitating each other?
“A color in shaving” reminds me of the prism effect of light passing through a lens – perhaps this is what she’s seeing? But a saloon being well placed in the center of an alley is a total mystery to me.
Is she talking about a cut of meat? Cutting a piece of meat at the joint, at the shoulder or elbow? If the meat is fresh it will be firm when squeezed? I’m not sure.
A New Cup and Saucer
Is she having a cup of tea? Is the tea loose-leaf (“yellow bud”), is the ribbon the string holding the steeper?
I’m imagining some sort of church service. Foliage are the flowers, the “little piece of white cloth” is the clerical collar, the oil is the incense?
The rest of the poem is a loss for me. Snips? No round color? Is that a play on the clerical collar? Are we still dealing with a priest / religion who doesn’t have anything useful to offer?
The cloth is a priest. I wonder if the widow in A Chair has been speaking with a priest? Is this priest always ready to give advice on any occasion? Is the poet getting tired of this priest showing “the best way”? Who doesn’t just want to grieve and be angry at God when there is tragedy? Isn’t that the human way? Sometime we’re closer to hell than heaven.
A Mounted Umbrella
Has Mildred misplaced her umbrella and now it’s lost? Are we watching her search for this now missing umbrella. Is the poet chastising Mildred for being careless? Why else would there be a “lesson” to learn? Though it would be odd for our poet to talk about things being in their proper place since she can’t even agree with the dictionary.
Secrets? It would be an invasion to go through someone’s purse, even if it were open. There is something oddly intimate about a purse and how it seems to represent the person even if they are not around. We recognize a person by their purse, we attach part of their secret life to it and we are intrigued – why else write about it?
A Frightful Release
My reading of “A bag” is influenced by the next poem, A Purse. So now I’m thinking someone left their bag behind but nobody knows who it belongs to? And imagine losing your bag and all the important parts of you that you carry around in it? Who wouldn’t come back for that, or is someone trying to leave a life behind? Has someone mismanaged their life?
I see an old woman, dressed in mourning black, sitting in a chair next to the bed of a dead or dying loved one. Perhaps “the sign” is crossing herself and the necessary betrayal is that she will continue living. Is hope a prayer, is prayer a spectacle? Is the barn the church, does the dirt refer to the cemetery where they will be buried? Is there no special protection for death?
I’ve got nothing. Nothing comes to mind. I don’t see a piano, hear it, relate to it, or can imagine at all what she means here. It’s as if all the keys on the piano were pressed at the same time and there was just the noise of all the notes echoing around until there was silence.
A Blue Coat
Perhaps she is painting something with a coat of blue? But what that could be I don’t know. Is she blue? Is she sad? She mentioned blue in A Plate in reference to sadness, but there “A sad size that is not sad is blue” so I’m not sure what she means by this. Either way, I like the idea of someone painting themselves blue, even their shadow.
A Red Hat
I’m having a hard time not taking this too literally. I’m imagining someone in a red hat on a cold, rainy day (maybe it’s Mildred again?) But why if everything is red is it then unnecessary? Is it not attracting her attention anymore? Is she just looking for that one spot of color? Is this sexual?
A Long Dress
Maybe I thought too hard about the title because I kept thinking of power lines and electricity in this poem. Is she comparing the magic of electricity to the wind? “What is the wind, what is it.”
The color imagery is harder to imagine. The colors seem more extreme than they should be, “a pink is scarlet” – is this a play on The Scarlet Letter: infidelity and sexuality? Is the line and the bow part of a gift? An unwrapping or undressing? Is the electricity the sexual energy between two people?
A Seltzer Bottle
The long sentence reminds me of all the millions of bubbles in a bottle of seltzer constantly rising to the top endlessly. Even the word suppose sounds like the bubbles when you listen to the fizzing – “melodiously”. The exact meaning of each suppose (bubble) I’m not sure of, but there seems to be an elegance or refinement to the imagery as if this were a nice party?
V3, Ch7: Walton was right to listen to his crew. What good is it to go to the ends of the earth when all there is is death? Pursuing some fantastic discovery will still lead to death, so why not enjoy the company of the living instead of chasing after the inevitability of death? Is it cowardly to choose life? Better to choose life than revenge, anyway. Better to pursue fellowship than hatred and bitterness.
V3, Ch6: And there we have it: total, inevitable destruction. And now as he does confess to his part, not only is he not believed but he can’t get anyone to join him. He’s utterly alone with only his demon to pursue him (and pursue). Society is abandoned for both of them, they are like 2 evil planets orbiting only each other. And as much as Victor created the monster, the monster has created this Victor.
V3, Ch5: This is sort of like being in a car when you know you are about to be in an accident but you can’t do anything about it. Tragedy must be coming and neither Victor or monster will find peace or happiness. The monster, though miserable, is still responsible for murder, especially of Clerval since that we premeditated. But Victor is just as responsible in not taking responsibility for his role. The end is near.
V3, Ch4: “He may be innocent of the murder, but he has certainly a guilty conscience.” And Victor is carrying his prison around with him everywhere. And not just death, but his friendships and relations have been suffering this entire time. He’s been withdrawing since he first read those books on alchemy and false science. His desire to be God has cursed him and everyone around him.
V3, Ch3: No good can come for Victor by not obeying his monster. Tearing up the bride will only probably cause his own fiancee to be destroyed one way or another. And now he is the villain, he is looked at with accusing eyes, he is outcast and murder follows him everywhere. Death has come from the life he created. But then didn’t the same thing happen to God? We could have lived in Eden but we became monsters instead
V3, Ch2: What if she rejects the monster? You can’t force love. Victor is now an island unto himself, alone, terrified, living in squalor just like the monster. He has the whole world possible for him, yet he wastes it and allows his demons to pursue him. Is it no wonder that his marriage and the monster wanting a mate line up so perfectly? He’s barely human at this point.
V3, Ch1: The marriage to his cousin has come up but he needs 2 more years to comply with the monster. This whole story feels like the monster is not actually real but is some manifestation of Victor’s dual human nature, his depression, his isolation, his inability to connect with human beings. Both characters are outcasts but the monster deserves a real life more than Victor does.
V2, Ch9: The monster merely wants a mate but Adam did not have to beg the way the monster does. Yet Victor does not agree out of love and compassion, but out of fear.
Is this a wedding gift? Maybe it came in one of those boxes she’s been going on about? It’s customary to get a married couple something for the home (as well as something old, new, borrowed, and blue).
Then perhaps she’s talking about cut flowers in a vase. and maybe the wedding cake?
The more I read the less I understand. This is very frustrating.
A Box (2)
Another gift perhaps? I’m totally lost here. Is it one box, or is it three boxes? Is she playing with tense and time? The longer her poems, the more they contain, the less I understand them. I enjoy her smaller gifts in smaller boxes than these larger ones.
A Red Stamp
I’m hanging on the word catalogue here in the way a catalog would be stamped with an official mark to register something? Perhaps to indicate something important? By why the white lilies? Does she mean white lies and that the catalog is filled with secrets and gossip and rumor? And if there is no white lie then there is no need to catalogue it? Like a police officer recording a crime?
A Method of a Cloak
I’m not sure why I’m imagining this cloak being strung out over a clothesline, perhaps the phrase “a climb to a line”? and it being an adventure for the cloak but it’s just a matter of time, clock, for it to dry? Perhaps this is Mildred’s cloak that got wet because the umbrella didn’t do it’s job well enough? And perhaps the black silver is a puddle of water pooling on the floor underneath the drying cloak?
I don’t want to take anything for granted with Stein, but the best I could image was that we’re seeing Mildred coming back from the store and making a lot of noise as she bangs her way in the door but all we see is her umbrella. We don’t see her, we don’t even see meaning, just action, just the motion and commotion of this simple act.
The ribbon? Perhaps she lost a ribbon, perhaps the ribbon should have been holding something, like a package?
I thought I might be able to grasp this one, it starts with an idea of a single charm being doubtful, but the rest of the poem is populated with if statements and then “something” becomes upright and I’m not sure how we got here.
Perhaps she means having doubts is charming? And perhaps if we have doubts about the poem but we still enter it then just asking “if” is enough to make us upright morally speaking? Perhaps being earnest is the highest praise she can offer us for at least attempting to dig into the heart of her rose? And maybe that’s why the poem is titled “Nothing Elegant” because she doesn’t want us putting on airs?
Dirt and not Copper
The only line I felt I could hang onto was “and even a strength to spread a table fuller” because I remembered my old dining room table as a kid and how hard it was to open it up to add the leaf when guests came. In fact that old table of my grandmother’s might have been nearly as old as Stein.
But the dirt? and the copper? And the places that are not empty? I have no idea.
A Piece of Coffee
There some a point when you struggle so much with a poem but aren’t able to squeeze once ounce of understanding from it. And then, after having violently wrestled with it you sit back and just watch it, hoping that maybe a gentler approach might help you understand it. But then you start to wonder if perhaps you are the failure, or perhaps the author is just fucking with you and there is no meaning. This poem is that poem. ANd I have no idea what’s going on. I recognize all the words, but I can’t figure out what they mean together.
Maybe in that way it’s like a cup of coffee when yo add cream to it and everything is all swirled up and chaotic for a moment until it weakens and turns a lighter shade of brown.
A Box (1)
A gift? Perhaps Christmas time (“a green point not to red” = green and red). Gifts are given in kindness and it’s rude to keep asking “What is it?! What is it?!” before you even open it.
But then I’m not sure she’s talking about a present. “Research” and “cattle”? I have no idea what to make of that and I’m having a hard time to “see a fine substance strangely”.
A Substance in a Cushion
This one confounds me. The word change seems to carry over from the previous poem, Glazed Glitter, but then I started to think that maybe a piece of gum was stuck in the couch? And then I sort of fell off the rails here.
It’s funny that she uses the word callous because I’m trying hard to not be hard to this poetry and that I do want to be open to change (“Suppose you do not like to change”, which feels almost like she’s attacking me personally with an insult or challenge) and I would very much like to find joy at sitting at the table in one of her many chairs with her.
And maybe she wants to play cards at the table “A circle of fine card board”, and maybe it’s even some strip poker, “a tassel”, though I admit to not exactly finding her to be someone I want to play strip poker with (and I’m sure that feeling’s mutual).
“Refusing to believe nonsense” is a good line because it sums up my frustrating with the rest of this poem, and perhaps her, too.
I cheated on this one and dug around online and was told that glitter – might – be referring to money, the clue being “nickel”. From here the poem opened up and that she seems to be talking about a paycheck (sinecure) and getting paid by the hour (“interpretation” meaning that an hour is interpreted by money. She might also be playing on words with “gratitude” and gratuity in that you don’t tip your doctor.
I have no idea what she’s going on about with Japanese, but the final line of borrowing being unnatural is a good line and relates back to the line about there being no money in mercy in that people who need money have none.
A Carafe That Is A Blind Glass
I’m not going to make any pretensions about “getting” Stein, I’m just going to try and open myself up to whatever my happen with her.
A “blind glass”? As someone who wears glasses my glasses were the first thing to come to mind since she also uses the word “spectacle”. But why a carafe? I’m drawing a blank here.
She’s next focused on directions, “pointing”, “system”, “not unordered” – maybe she’s lost her glasses?
Spreading is interesting in terms of the glasses in that they spread the light out, especially when you look through someone else’s glasses and the world looks totally different. Which makes this an excellent first poem in this book since she wants us to look at the world in a new light, with new “spectacles”. Perhaps that’s why she used the word carafe since it’s shape sort of resembles a lens but it’s also a device used to pour drinks for multiple people, an act she’s trying to perform for us.
V2, Ch8: It really is heartbreaking to read this – it’s almost as if we are God listening to the cries of all of humanity who ask why they must suffer. All-in-all this story always centers around fellowship, companionship, friendship, to be part of something bigger, to have someone to listen to, to empathize with, to remind us we are not totally alone.
V2, Ch7: Is man so detestable that everything he creates in his image is a horror-show? We are capable of such great art and refined thought but when we apply that to something that might resemble us we are a little terrified of it, like those Boston Dynamics robots that seem just a little too real. We can express our essence, but we can’t reliably duplicate it at will – that’s still totally random.
V2, Ch6: We are told of how people go out of their way to help each other even if that means a great sacrifice to themselves. The monster is gaining a moral education and is orbiting the neighborhood of man. All this must be all the worse, however, since he can never seem to have any hope of participating in fellowship.