Charles Berger: On "Of Mere Being"

"Of Mere Being" says nothing about the sun or choirs; it displays a fabricated world, though its "firefangled" bird may indeed come from the sun, the fire fashioner. The question toward which the poem leads is the Blakean one: who made thee, who formed thy symmetry? The "gold-feathered bird" stands gorgeously alone, as if the scrawny crier of "Not Ideas" were now transformed into something rich and strange, something singular--or self-begotten, if we read the bird as phoenix. . . .

[Berger quotes the entire poem]

The palm at the end of the mind, a destination and a reward, symbolizes both resurrection and poetic glory: as the palm rises, so do we. Like the soldier, in "Metaphors of a Magnifico," Stevens sees a tree in the distance, though there is no assurance that the "edge of space" beckons on to a village, much less the walled city of Jerusalem. Much rides on whether or not "the end of the mind" and "Beyond the last thought" are synonymous, or whether Stevens implies that there is a space between the last thought and mind's end, a region that lies within the mind but beyond the range of thought. "It is not the reason / That makes us happy or unhappy" might point to this region. If one chooses to equate the two phrases, then the palm would rise, the bird's feathers "dangle down," just beyond the mind's edge: "It would have been outside," to quote from "Not Ideas." Wherever we stand in space, "bronze decor," with its echoes of Horace's claim for poetry-exegi monumentum aere perennior--and the string of words in the final line, convince us that bird and palm alike blaze with artifice. Yet the maker or fashioner remains unidentified. "Of Mere Being" is poised on the edge of unanswerable questions. Does the wind move slowly because it is dying down, as the spirit departs in death? Or does it move slowly because a new life is starting up? Whose spirit is this?

From Forms of Farewell: The Late Poetry of Wallace Stevens. University of Wisconsin Press.

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Criticism Overview
Title Charles Berger: On "Of Mere Being" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Berger Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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