The Idea of Order at Key West
by Wallace Stevens
At this point, you may have some pretty strong feelings about the speaker of this poem, maybe even violent feelings. But, give him a chance, why don'tcha? And we're just assuming that he's a… he. Assuming can be dangerous, though, so let's see what we know about this guy.
First off, the speaker seems like a pretty bright guy. (Again, we say "guy" because there is nothing that indicates gender one way or the other, so, since Stevens is a man, a male speaker is a safe bet.) We also know that the speaker has spent some time at the Key West seashore. He also seems to have very keen powers of perception and recollection, almost like a poet. Hmm! (Chances are, then, that the speaker of this poem is Stevens, but it's always a good idea to separate poet from poem unless there is some clear, undeniable indication that the poet is to be extra-present in the poem.)
We get the sense that the speaker is puzzling out these big questions about imagination and reality, about inspiration and creativity, right along with us. It's kind of like he is figuring it out as he goes along from one line to the next. This makes us feel like part of the process and it draws us in to the poem.
Need proof? The following phrases and questions heighten the sense that the speaker is figuring things out as the poem goes along:
- "even if" (10)
- "It may be that" (12)
- "Whose spirit is this?" (18)
- "we should ask this often" (20)
- "If it was" (21, 23)
- "But it was more than that" (28)
- "tell me, if you know" (44)
Eventually, the speaker talks directly to Ramon Fernandez. This also draws us into the poem because we feel like we are eavesdropping on the speaker's private conversation or letter to Ramon. Although, in a real way, this speaker is talking directly to us as well.
All and all, the speaker seems like a pretty intense guy. At least, we can definitely say that he's an intense thinker. The entirety of this poem can be best understood as a kind of thought exercise, in which the speaker puzzles over nature of reality, the role of art, and what happens when those two super-huge abstractions intersect. If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: dude is DEEP. He's grappling with some of the most fundamental questions of the human condition, and he's taking us along for the ride. Reading this poem, we're given a front-car seat in the roller coaster of his mind!