Note:
A case history of this student is available. Note that Joe Essid and Jen Euchner wrote a
Writing Center report about Keiko's work on this essay.

The Assignment:
Analyze the role of imagination in the work of two different poets whose work we've read.

The Essay (no title provided)

Keiko Suzuki

Eng. 326

Dr. X

In Wallace Stevens' poem, "Anecdote of the Jar" he develops his main quest: what is

the relationship between the external world and the human mind, between reality and the

imagination? For his perspective, imagination transforms reality. " Human being perceive and

create the reality they contemplate, as well as imagination is supposed to come from essence

of reality. In this sense, people's perception is not only a record or mimic of the external world's

figure, but also an imaginative action through individual mind. "Anecdote of the Jar" expresses

such a series of progress of interaction between reality and imagination in the symbolic description

of 'jar" and "wilderness." Moreover, consequently the poet recognizes the special characteristic

of creation that never turns out to be real itself, and also the limit of imagination which cannot be

expressed in a certain form, even they are necessary to give some order to the real world. The

first line in this poem sounds comical because the dynamic juxtaposition of one pedestrian product,

jar and very specific land's name, Tennessee makes it difficult to find some imagery connection.

Besides the desolate image of the landscape in this poem emphasizes the alienation of each

existence, reality and artistic creation. In other word, the poet accepts one inevitable fact that

each element constructing our world, in a sense dual world of soul and substance, is different

from each other. Here in the first part represents a exclusive situation of artistic creation and

actual element of reality. Unlike Keats' struggle in art for the heightened creation of human

imagination beyond the physical existence, Stevens directly deals with the contradiction of

art and reality as they are.

Although at first a jar "made the slovenly wilderness" (3), "the wilderness rose up to it" l5).

The jar is a symbol and embodiment of artistic creativity as a result of the artist's perception

and imagination activities. In process of creating one artistic product as a form, individual

percepts the external world with his own point of view and values. Certainly his motivation

and senses are stimulated by the external world, but once it is perceived as a material of art,

it is given order according to individual imagination. Thus, imagination transforms reality around us.

Moreover, the reality is able to have its order and meaning to exist because of imagination. The

wilderness is "no longer wild," because the imagination activities and intelligent of human being

give the wilderness a ordered life and system in the world. "The jar took dominion everywhere" (9),

and at last nature is no longer nature itself, but one original world formed by the artist's imagination.

Without imagination's function as a medium between creative and real world, there cannot be the

order and harmony in both spheres, but they would be meaningless loosing the identity.

As compared with Keats' idea of romanticism, it may become clear that Stevens' theory

about the relationship between struggling with the same kind of problem of the contradiction between

reality and art, each perspective of the importance of imagination is very different. In Keats' "Ode on

a Grecian Urn," the poet develops his idea of poetry, in a form of monologue in his own pure world

of imagination on a Grecian urn. He is attracted by the urn, "foster- child of silence and slow

time,' (2) because although time is supposed to destruct the object's beauty, it has kept supporting

the beauty beyond the reality of time. On the contrary it makes it possible for the urn to be "still

unravished bride of quietness" (1). In the mysterious silence, the poet absorbs his imagination into

the eternal world of beauty, which can exist only in the art. As Keats' idealism, the beauty is

able to become immortal and true in one moment by personal imagination beyond reality. That

is why on the urn, boughs cannot shed their leaves, and lover can be fair for ever and keep the

most passionate and purest love, though they can never kiss each other in reality. The powerful

quotation, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" (53) praises the eternity of imagination of art activities.

Art is the human creation possible to record the essence of nature. Since he sacrifices the

sensual sense in the actual world of his "burning forehead and parching tongue," (32) he can

gain the divine and free soul. As far as Keats' romanticism, imagination is the fundamental

important way that human kinds can keep immortality, and therefore, in contrast with imagination

activity reality in the external world is just the limit disturbing human being's imagination.

On the other hand, in Stevens' ides of the relationship between reality in the external world ,

imagination plays a role of medium connecting between reality in the external world and artistic

creation. Imagination functions onto both spheres and goes on both directions. Three separated

elements keeping each characteristic, interact and give meaning of each existence. Stevens never

denies and sacrifices one of elements in our real world, even emotional or physical world.

In "The Idea of Order at Key West" Stevens explores further this problem of the

relationship of art and nature. The artistic construct in this poem is not a specific object with a

definable form. It is a song whose form is not given in the poem, whose essence it is to be shaped

by the reality. The song is more immediate, more united with the singer, more the act itself of

relation than the creation isolated from the act that brought it into being. "She sang beyond the

genius of the sea" (1). The "genius" of reality lies in its elusiveness, in its refusal to be mastered b

y the world of art. Because the song is more the expression of the singer than the conscious

creation of the poet, it achieves in this poem a certain union with reality. The girl sings of the

sea, beyond the sea, and the song and the sea merge and yet remain distinct from each other.

The water is never "formed" (2) in the song or by the song. It remains itself. its sound mingling

with and informing the song: "The sea was not a mask. No more was she" (8). But the

inhuman sound of the "veritable oceans (7) is humanized by the poetic creation: It may be that

in all her phrases stirred The grinding water and the gasping wind; But it was she and not the

sea we heard. (11.12- 14).

Though the singer may be one with the song, though she may sing about reality, she does

not sing reality itself. Between the song and the sea lies the identity of the maker, the image that

is not the object, the word that cannot be. If the song were reality, it would be "a summer

sound /Repeated in a summer without end" (ll. 26- 27). But it is a little different from reality. ),

endowing with meaning "the meaningless plungings of water and the wind" (30). The girl sings

"beyond the genius of the sea," (1) and beyond the ending of her song the sea is portioned out.

But as the voice of the poet in the poem withdraws from the song, the virtual ordering of reality

becomes an unfulfilled desire. There never was another world for the singer of the song. But the

writer of the poem, within the poem itself, sees the song end.

Thus Stevens moves in "The Idea of Order at Key West" from an affirmation of poetry's

capacity to become one with reality, simultaneously revealing and structuring and defining of

reality that separates the poem from the real. The progress of the poem lies in this deepening

awareness of its distance from the song. The song fading at the send leaves "ghostlier

demarcations, keener sound," (56) but also a "rage for order" (52) that is not assuaged.


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