Wallace Stevens’s “playful, eroticized elaboration of Edward Lear”

Floral Decorations for Bananas
by Wallace Stevens

Well, nuncle, this plainly won’t do.
These insolent, linear peels
And sullen, hurricane shapes
Won’t do with your eglantine.
They require something serpentine.
Blunt yellow in such a room!

You should have had plums tonight,
In an eighteenth-century dish,
And pettifogging buds,
For the women of primrose and purl
Each one in her decent curl.
Good God! What a precious light!

But bananas hacked and hunched….
The table was set by an ogre,
His eye on an outdoor gloom
And a stiff and noxious place.
Pile the bananas on planks.
The women will be all shanks
And bangles and slatted eyes.

And deck the bananas in leaves
Plucked from the Carib trees
Fibrous and dangling down,
Oozing cantankerous gum
Out of their purple maws,
Darting out of their purple craws
Their musky and tingling tongues.

It was first published Measure 26 (Apr. 1923) and then in Stevens’s first book of poetry, Harmonium (1923), according to Wikipedia.

That it is  a “playful, eroticized elaboration of Edward Lear” is stated on p. 92 of Alec Marsh’s essay “Wallace Stevens, Stanley Burnshaw, and the Defense of Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry and Politics since 1900, edited by Daniel Morris (2023). Marsh goes on to state that this was what “persuaded contemporary critics in the 1920s to ‘market the thesis of Stevens’s aestheticism, his verbal acuteness and emotional lassitude.'”

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2 Responses to Wallace Stevens’s “playful, eroticized elaboration of Edward Lear”

  1. Peter Byrne says:

    The effort to associate Stevens with Lear in anything remotely erotic is much more comic than this poem. Their four scrubbed hands together couldn’t lift the skirts of the Lady Jingly Jones. Stevens, moreover, who apparently published in 1823, would have been even more enfeebled a century later.

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