In my Community and Literacy class, we are reading (the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful) Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose. In the chapter where he talks about quitting his graduate English program, he references some lines from the poem Arrival at the Waldorf by Wallace Stevens. Rose uses them beautifully for his own ends — to help him explain what he was feeling back in UCLA in the 1960s. The fragment of poetry intrigued me, and I couldn’t wait to look the whole poem up.
I had to read that bad boy 32 (!!!) times before I got even a crack into it. Abstraction, thy name is Wallace Stevens! I won’t tell you what I think it’s about, but rather offer it to you to read (32 times — at least). Maybe if I read it 32 times today I’ll find out a little more.
Arrival at the Waldorf
Home from Guatemala, back at the Waldorf.
This arrival in the wild country of the soul,
All approaches gone, being completely there,
Where the wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.
You touch the hotel the way you touch moonlight
Or sunlight and you hum and the orchestra
Hums and you say “The world in a verse,
A generation sealed, men remoter than mountains,
Women invisible in music and motion and color,”
After that alien, point-blank, green and actual Guatemala.