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“The Plain Sense of Things” by Wallace Stevens Essay

In Stevens’ poem “The Plain Sense of Things” the first thing the reader notices is that there are five equal stanzas. The poem is neatly constructed so that each stanza contains four lines. This creates an organized, orderly look to the poem, and gives off the idea of being in control because of the form. After further examination of the poem, the reader discovers the gloomy nature of the poem. Another interesting feature is the length of the poem. The poem contains twenty lines, a short poem, as though to symbolize how short life truly is. It may also possibly be a symbol of mortality, and how everything must come to an end at some point. Stevens obviously takes great care in creating this poem.

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Stevens seems to be informing the reader of the grim reality of life. Stevens is taking the reader on a narrative poem (possibly comparable to Frost). Stevens makes reference to the falling of the leaves which denotes the ending of a season. The ending of fall is seen with the beginning of winter which is associated with death. His poem is also filled with a variety of negative and empty words. For example, “fallen,” “end,” “inanimate,” “inert,” “blank cold,” “sadness,” “without cause,” “lessened,” “badly,” “old,” and “failed” are stated just within the first three stanzas (or twelve lines). These words are negatively associated; they cause the reader to be aware of life dwindling away. As well as the negativity attached to these words, there is also a vast amount of vagueness to them. These words are not specific, detailed, or descriptive.

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Stevens has described life in a descriptive yet sad tone just within the first three stanzas. Life has been reduced to a fifty year old chimney that slants, a failed effort, and “a repetitiousness of men and flies” (1901). When Stevens refers to the failed effort, I believe, he is referring to people as a whole have failed in life. People have moved away from religion and morals, and, although they have made an effort to rectify their wrongs, they’ve failed. Perhaps the greenhouse is even a reference to the House of the Lord (churches, temples, etc.), and the paint needed is the need for a revival in our religious beliefs and morality.

In the final two stanzas, Stevens has unleashed his rawest thoughts and emotions. I think he is referring to the absence of morals, justice, and the Lord in our lives. He speaks of “the great pond” which could be a reference to Heaven, or the Lord, and how we see it reflected, dirty and muddy. The glory of our salvation has been tainted by our evil ways, the water has been polluted, and our hopes for being saved are beginning to diminish. By the end of the poem, Stevens appears to be hopeless about the future. We can only imagine a time when salvation is within reach, a time when the pond is not muddy, a time when morals and the Lord comes first, a time when live is valued. Stevens appears to state that it is inevitable that the water becomes cloudy, that Heaven becomes further away, and the idea of a glorious afterlife with the Lord is tainted.

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