FIVE MINUTES OUT FOR BELATED LIT CRIT
Earlier this afternoon I realized that one of my favourite - or at least, most ingrained - poems contains a really horrific pun. From Wallace Stevens' "Anecdote of the Jar": "The jar was round upon the ground/ And tall and of a port in air". That sentence always puzzled me. How is the jar like a port, or a portal, or a passageway of some kind> What is Stevens saying here, exactly? (bangs head on desk &c.). The words ran through my head again, only this time I thought: It's like a door but it's not a door. When is a door not a door? When it's ajar.
I must have been sixteen when I first read that poem. Since then it's been filed away in my brain, ready for inspection and removal at any moment. Somehow I managed in the intervening sixteen years to ignore the essential cartoonishness of the poem. The rhythm is a jaunty tetrameter, the diction is, with only a few exceptions, folksy and plain. Not to mention the opening image of a guy putting a jar on a hill somewhere. What's the plot? A guy puts a jar on a hill in Tennessee. What's in the jar? Oh, nothing. Then what happens? Nothing. Just a jar, sitting on a hill. Then it takes "dominion everywhere," by dint of its mute defining presence, its radical difference from the defined and tamed wilderness. Imagine pitching it as a TV Movie of the Week: A pristine state of nature is defiled by a tyrannical vessel. It's up to Tennessee Park Ranger Jock Robbins to save the day. Or maybe a theatrical release: In a world where Nature itself can be corrupted, nothing is more dangerous than a Wide Mouth Dominion.
Retracted on 2004-03-15::6:24 p.m.
parode - exode