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The Idea of Order at Key West

The Idea of Order at Key West


by Wallace Stevens

Stanza 5 Summary

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

Line 44

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,

  • Deep breath! We're on the final stanza. Down the strech we come!
  • Oh, wait. Hold up y'all! Where did this Ramon guy come from? Tell us! Tell us if you know!
  • Well, there are a couple possibilities, but first, let's consider what the name dropping indicates in the most basic sense in the context of the poem.
  • Up until this point, the speaker has been referring to "we" when talking about those observing and listening to the singer on the beach. This Ramon guy can certainly be read as the previously unnamed companion of the speaker.
  • Giving the companion a name makes the poem feel a little more immediate, a little more personal. We feel almost like we are eavesdropping on a private conversation or reading a letter between two friends. It pulls us into the poem. It draws us in, just like those reality TV shows. (Of course, Shmoop would never watch one. Okay, maybe we saw a couple minutes of Jersey Shore… um, accidentally.)
  • Another possibility is that Stevens is calling out a critic of the time named Ramon Fernandez. This seems plausible, except that Stevens denied that he was referring to the critic Fernandez. Stevens claimed he had randomly chosen two common Spanish names and put them together to create the character of Ramon: "Ramon was not intended to be anyone at all" (Letters, p. 798).
  • Either way—whoever he is, Ramon has entered the picture.

Lines 45-51

Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

  • These lines ask Ramon the question referred to in line 44. The speaker is saying to Ramon, tell me this.
  • What the speaker wants to know starts off very clearly stated: "Why, when the singing ended and we turned / Toward the town." The town, we can surmise, is Key West. But what happens after the song ends and they turn their attention from the song and the sea toward the town? This is where things get a little cagey.
  • The lines that follow give us a description, albeit a nontraditional one, of a seascape at night. The lights of the fishing boats are described and how these lights, as dusk gives way to night, "tilt" in the air. As the last light of the day fades and "night descend[s]," the boats become invisible and all that is seen are the lights that appear to tip as the boats rock with the motion of the sea.
  • With us so far? Great. 
  • Now, the tilting lights "mastered the night and portioned out the sea." Hmm. Let's start with "mastered the night."
  • What does night want to do? Night wants to erase everything, to turn the world to darkness, blackness, nothingness. But the lights somehow "master" the darkness. The lights break the will of night, preventing night from making the scene, the world, uniformly dark.
  • Not only do the lights "master" night, they also "portioned out the sea." The lights divide up the unknowable darkness, expanse and depth of the sea at night—the lights order the sea into "emblazoned zones and fiery poles." The effect is the ordering of the night and the sea: "arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
  • Order, anyone?
  • So, after being exposed to her song (the artist's art), the speaker's perception of reality—the landscape itself—has changed. Even though the singing has stopped, the effect of the art on the speaker remains.
  • We know what you're thinking, "Hey Shmoop! What about those zones and poles?" Well zones are… zones, areas, sections, or divisions. Zones are a way to organize a space or area.
  • And Stevens is probably using fiery poles in reference to the lights on poles on the fishing boats. But there is a secondary meaning of the term "poles" that we should discuss. Pole, in addition to being a long stick—and the place where Santa Claus lives (yes, Shmoop still believes)—is a geometric term. Shmoop will spare you the geometry lecture for now, but consider this: what is geometry if not the ordering of the space of the world?
  • You might be thinking that, being a poet, Stevens probably couldn't tie his own shoes, let alone do geometry, but think again. Geometry and geometric language come up in his work from time to time. (Just take a look at Part VI of Stevens' poem "Six Significant Landscapes" if you don't believe us.)
  • See? Told ya so.

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