Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Analysis of "The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage" by Wallace Stevens

Original poem reprinted online here: "The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage" by Wallace Stevens
Originally read: May 5, 2013
More information about the Poet: Wallace Stevens








I knew this was an eckphrastic poem from the title and the first line.    The words that lead me to this knowledge was "nude" in the title and "shell" in the first line.  But what if this wasn't an eckphrastic piece?  Well, I might be too saturated with Wallace Stevens, Botticelli, Poetry, allusions or all of the above.  In some ways, at least for me, it's impossible to separate the poem and the allusion to the painting.

However, the speaker tries to separate his words from meaning or interpretation of the painting.  "The Birth of Venus" is a pretty acclaimed piece of art, but the first lines of the poem seem a bit jarring, "But not a shell, she starts / Archaic, for the sea."  Archaic.  Obsolete.  Not so much the reverence appearing in the painting or from people that know this poainting.

If find the last lines of this quintet interesting because I automatically equate, "She scuds the glitters, / Noiselessly, like one more wave" as an allusion to "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" ("I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.")  Does this mean the lines are allusive and correlate to the poem.  No not really, but there's a deep sense of disillusionment which is punctuated with the next line.

"She too is discontent."  This line is straight to the point on description.  From here, the poem will go on why she's discontent.  But also note that how the speaker sets up the "proof" of her discontent.  The description on in the second quintet is more physical: "purple stuff upon her arms,"  "Tired of the salty harbors."   "Purple stuff" is a pretty broad description, and the images of harbors versus the eagerness for the "interiors of the sea" goes along with the directness of the line.  And such directness takes away a sense of allure and play that, possibly, the art presents.

That is until the third quintet where there's pretty description, "she touches the clouds, where she goes, -- / In the circle of her traverse of the sea." A part of me likes the directness of the lines, but I can see why there's a back and forth in the description to build the speaker as discontent like Venus.  What the speaker wants is not clarified, but the varied tone suggests a sort of struggle to accept one interpretation or the other.  Also the use of conjunctions put a light on the transitions.

"Yet this is meagre play" This self addressing of the lines undercuts the strength in the description in the third quintet pretty viscerally. Past me highlighted, "As her heels foam" and wrote, "can't coalesce Art with intent." The transformation between heels turning into foam is an image that reminds me of the Hans Christian Anderson "Little Mermaid" where she tuns to foam at the end.  Yes, another allusion which leads to the speaker's thoughts...perhaps.

The last quintet the speaker envisions Venus' life as "Scullion of fate, / Across the spick torrent, ceaselessly, / Upon her irretrievable way."  Past me wrote, "The subject is far too disparate from the want of the artwork, or, the speaker admits that he can't connect the two (art and his intent) in this poem." 

I'm not so sure about the past me interpretation.  The projection of what the speaker sees is so strong that the poem is more about the speaker than the image itself.  This is what he thinks the art would lead.  This is what he thinks of her.  This is what he thinks.


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