Bantam in Pine-Woods

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"Bantams in Pine-Woods" is a poem from Wallace Stevens's first book of poetry, Harmonium. It was first published in 1922 in the poetry journal Dial, along with five other poems, all under the title "Revue".[1] It is in the public domain.[2]

Bantams in Pine-Woods

 Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
 Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

 Damned universal cock, as if the sun
 Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

 Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
 Your world is you. I am my world.

 You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
 Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

 Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
 And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

This poem can be read as a declaration of independence for American poetry. The new world's "inchling" poets[3] are defiant towards the traditional literary canon, and particularly defiant against the unnamed, arrogant, self-appointed gatekeeper of literary tradition; they are confident instead in their own free powers of innovation in the New World. The poem can be compared to "The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage" on Helen Vendler's interpretation of it as an expression of confidence in new American art. On this reading Chieftain Iffucan represents the canon, making a claim to universality and a privileged access to inspiration that is challenged by the Appalachian inchlings. The richness of tradition is conceded ("Fat!...."), but it is relativized ("Your world is you"). Nevertheless, a single poet is addressed but not identified in the poem; the possibility that that poet is T. S. Eliot, who emigrated from the New World to the Old World, problematizes whether the "canon" is or is not un-American.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cook, p. 36
  2. ^ Buttel, p. 194. See also Librivox [1] and the Poetry web site.[2]
  3. ^ The word "inchling" is, in fact, a neologism coined by Wallace Stevens for this poem; the poet James Merrill made use of the word in his celebrated 1974 poem "Lost in Translation", in which themes from "Bantams in Pine-Woods" play an important subtext.

References[edit]

  • Buttel, Robert. Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium. 1967: Princeton University Press.
  • Vendler, Helen. On Extended Wings. 1969: Harvard University Press.
  • Cook, Eleanor. A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens. 2007: Princeton University Press.