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The Idea of Order at Key West

The Idea of Order at Key West


by Wallace Stevens

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 8

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.

  • The juxtaposition of "the sea" and "she" is really emphasized here. The structure of the line creates the emphasis. This is the only line in the poem that contains two complete sentences, so we're guessing that this is inentional.
  • When you see the word "mask," you might think about that Spiderman mask you wore for Halloween when you were seven. Sorry. It's not that mask. But the mask thing is significant. Masks hide the truth: Spiderman's true identity or some deep psychological problem. They are things we put on the outside to hide what is underneath.
  • Again, this inside-outside, internal-external, imagination-reality idea is something we should keep an eye on as the poem develops.
  • Line 8 gives us another moment of clarity. Stevens lays things down pretty directly here: the sea is not a deception and neither is she. The sea is the sea and the singer is the singer. Both elements are present and true—the sound of the sea and the sound of her song.
  • She and the sea are key components in this poem. We already talked about the extended metaphor that is happening with the sea representing the natural world-external reality-inspiration. We should also start keeping an eye on she in terms of extended metaphor. Stevens uses she as an extended metaphor for the artist/internal reality (the imagination).
  • The link between she and the sea becomes even more interesting (at least Shmoop thinks so) when taking into account visual and auditory similarities—in other words how the two words look and sound. The short answer is that they are similar. They rhyme and they look pretty similar too. Only one letter separates one word from being the other.

Lines 9-11

The song and the water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.

  • We have two elements again, the "song" and the sea ("water"). This time, though, the focus is on "sound."
  • The sound of her song and the sound of the sea are both present—they are not mixed ("medleyed").
  • This separation of the sounds exists, despite the fact that she seems to be inspired by the sea.
  • Even if she is trying to capture the sound of the sea in her song, ("Even if what she sang is what she heard"), her song and the sound of the sea are different.
  • We should start looking at the way "song" functions as an extended metaphor for art/poetry. She (the artist) makes the song (the art).
  • The sound of the sea was very clear, as if speaking the song to her (uttering it word by word), but still her song and the sound of the sea are different. The inspiration and the art are different, separate things.
  • All right Shmoopers, rhyme time! We have a strong end rhyme in lines ten and eleven: "heard" and "word." This is a good example of form mirroring (or "mimic[ing]") content. These lines are about "sound" (the end word of line nine) and more specifically about the "song." It is no accident that the lines sound more musical with the addition of this strong rhyme.
  • There is also the repetition of the phrase "what she sang was" in lines ten and eleven that adds to this musical quality. Stevens is feeling it and he wants us to feel it, too.
  • But there is another reason these lines sound especially musical and rhythmic. Meter dear reader, meter. This poem is written in blank verse. (If you are hoping blank verse means the pages are blank, sorry to disappoint.)
  • Blank verse is the term for poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. If you are screaming at your computer screen right now that there is rhyme in the poem so what the heck is Shmoop talking about—good for you. It means you are still awake and care enough to be enraged. Let us explain. Please, put the stapler down.
  • When we say unrhymed we mean that the entire poem does not follow a regular rhyme scheme, like a Shakespearean sonnet, for example, that is made up of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter in the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Nope. This poem ain't that. There are some rhymed lines but no regular rhyme scheme—hence, blank verse.
  • Lines 10 and 11 are especially regular in their iambic pentameter (very little metrical variation from the iambic pattern, aside from the inverted foot starting line 10) and this strengthens the rhythmic feel of these lines that are discussing sound.
  • For more on rhythm and (the lack of) rhyme in this poem, check out "Form and Meter," then come on back!

Lines 12-14

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.

  • In each phrase of her song, the sounds of the sea "stirred."
  • The word "stir" brings with it the feeling of something awakening or coming to life.
  • This works well with the continued personification of the sea.
  • Line 13 is another example of sound mirroring content. The alliteration (those repeated G sounds) in "The grinding water and the gasping wind" really seem to capture the sound and movement of the sea and the wind—the feel and rhythm of the scene being described (and the word "gasp" is pretty onomatopoeic—a word that sounds like what it means).
  • But, despite all these sounds stirring and all the gasping, what our speaker hears is the song, not the sea. The speaker is drawn to the art, not the inspiration.
  • It could be the triumph of human imagination and creativity over nature—or maybe she's just got pipes like Mariah.
  • Line 14 has internal rhyme, "she," and "sea," mirroring the first line of stanza two. Shessh, Wallace, enough already! We get it! SHE and the SEA!
  • Finally, take a look at the end words in stanza two: she, sound, heard, word, stirred, wind, heard. Stevens uses those end words the same way he uses sound throughout the stanza—to emphasize the stanza's content and ideas.
  • Now, pat yourself on the back. We've reached the end of stanza 2 and you're still here!

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