O Florida, Venereal Soil
"O Florida, Venereal Soil" is a poem from Wallace Stevens's first book of poetry, Harmonium. It was first published in the journal Dial, volume 73, July 1922, and is therefore in the public domain.
Buttel interprets the poem as continuous with Baudelaire's sense of the opposition between the corruptibility of the flesh and the perfection of an ideal world. The "few things for themselves" that Stevens lists in the first stanza are not philosophical generics like Aristotle's conception of what's worth doing for its own sake (philosophy) or Hobbes's list of appetitive desires that motivate all human beings. Stevens's list rather is highly specific and opaque to the reader whose imagination may not be piqued by buzzards, etc. One has to look beyond this opacity to whatever piques one's imagination, however quirky that may be to others. The same holds true for the "dreadful sundry of this world" listed in the second stanza. The poem is about Stevens's subjective response to Florida, and he doesn't do any generalizing so as to share an abstract content with the reader.
However much the poet may be distracted by lascivious particulars, he does indeed want particulars: A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit, A pungent bloom against donna's shade. This insistence on particularity is a familiar theme in Stevens. (See his treatment of beauty in "Peter Quince at the Clavier", for example.) Bates reads the poem as Stevens's wish that Florida "were less the harlot and more the sequestered inamorata". (His donna may be compared to the princess of the sea in "Infanta Marina".)
Buttel classifies it as one of the later poems in Harmonium, displaying "an extravagance of conception and an energy of language and tone that approach the violences of imagination that Stevens sought but had not found in the earlier poems." He credits these later poems with establishing "an over-all development" in the book.
- Buttel, R. Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium. Princeton University Press, 1968.
- Bates, Milton. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self. University of California Press, 1985.
- Cook, Eleanor. A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens. Princeton University Press, 2007.