We asked John Serio, the editor of Stevens’s Selected Poems, to comment on today’s selection. He writes, “Wallace Stevens once observed that the great poems of heaven and hell have been written and that now it is now time to write the great poem of earth. ‘The Dove in the Belly,’ like ‘Sunday Morning,’ is just one of his many poems evoking the profound beauty of our planet. Yet, and this is typical of Stevens, it is never an easy path to such appreciation. Most of the expressions of sensuous beauty in the poem are phrased not as declarations, but as questions. Like the Romantics before him, Stevens is aware that any splendor or value in the outer world depends on a response from the inner world, from an imagination imbued with feeling—from ‘the dove in the belly.'”
The Dove in the Belly
The whole of appearance is a toy. For this,
The dove in the belly builds his nest and coos,
Selah, tempestuous bird. How is it that
The rivers shine and hold their mirrors up,
Like excellence collecting excellence?
How is it that the wooden trees stand up
And live and heap their panniers of green
And hold them round the sultry day? Why should
These mountains being high be, also, bright,
Fetched up with snow that never falls to earth?
And this great esplanade of corn, miles wide,
Is something wished for made effectual
And something more. And the people in costumes,
Though poor, though raggeder than ruin, have that
Within them right for terraces—oh, brave salut!
Deep dove, placate you in your hiddenness.
Learn more about Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens
Poet Edward Hirsch reading “The Dove in the Belly”
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