Anecdote of the Jar
by Wallace Stevens
This jar is not your average jar—but then again, it's not your average jar because, well, it is your average jar. Its significance is that it's normal, average, commercial—something you could expect in any and every household. Yet, in this poem, it's been placed into the wilderness, and in this new context, gains a whole new meaning. The jar stands up as a man-made, civilized object in a world that perpetuates itself knowing no laws. Thus, the jar has become a symbol, and is no longer just an object, making it all the more important that we pay attention to its appearances in this poem.
- Title: This title lets us know that this poem will be about a jar. It's also possibly an allusion, or reference, to the poet John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."
- Line 1: This line sets up the imagery of the scene surrounding the jar. With the crucial mention of the word "I," and the state of Tennessee, it shows us that the wilderness in which we later come to see the jar is actually accessible by man, and within a state whose boundaries, certainly, were drawn by men.
- Line 2: Surprise, surprise: the jar is round. Aren't most jars round? Well, yes. And so, indeed, are hills. This line makes the scene seem quite ordinary—though we have no idea why the speaker felt the random urge to place the jar on a hill, in Tennessee. Still, we're intrigued.
- Line 3: This line is showing us personification, because the jar is taking on human characteristics. Jars can't make anyone do anything—they're not human, they can't persuade. Okay, maybe if they're full of fruit, they can make us salivate, but it's still not the jar, it's the fruit. But that's what's so fun about personification—it opens up a whole new world for our imagination, and a world of power for the jar.
- Line 7: Again, we hear about the roundness of the jar. This line shows us some internal rhyme, with "round" and "ground." (More about those sounds in the "Sound Check" section.) It also sets the scene some more, showing us that this jar wasn't special enough to be put on a bush, or a stump. It's just on the ground, on a hill.
- Line 8: Again, this line seems like personification. We'd expect to hear about a person being tall, and a person's "port" (according to that definition which means way of carrying oneself). But no, we still see the jar. It can also be a port, as in a harbor—perhaps between wilderness and civilization, the man-made and the self-grown.
- Line 10: This is one powerful jar. Some think the word "dominion" could be a historical reference to a type of jar that was popular in the 1920s, when this poem was written, the "Dominion Wide Mouth Special."
- Line 10: Here, we see again how this is just described as a normal jar. But this normal, man-made object, has the power to distort the wilderness.
- Line 11: This line again contrasts the jar to the wilderness. The jar, obviously, cannot procreate, whereas birds and bushes have their ways of spreading without man's help. So, the jar's powers are limited after all.