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The Idea of Order at Key West

The Idea of Order at Key West

by Wallace Stevens

Stanza 6 Summary

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

Lines 52-56

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order the words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

  • In the the poem's final stanza, the speaker lays it down for his buddy Ramon.
  • The stanza starts with an emphatic address to Ramon: "Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon."
  • When we see the word "rage," most of us probably associate it with anger. But rage can also refer to an intense feeling or enthusiasm. This definition seems more appropriate in the context of the poem. 
  • So, the speaker is having some intense feelings about this "order" and he is letting his pasty friend Ramon hear about it. Why Ramon is pale is difficult to say.
  • If we read Ramon as simply a character, a companion of the speaker, than this is simply some physical description that could indicate a degree of frailty.
  • If we read Ramon as the critic Ramon Fernandez, though, then pale could also be a reference to the feebleness or unimpressive quality of the critic's reasoning.
  • The maker/poet has intense feelings about "ordering" the song or "words" of the sea—"order" in the sense of placing things in relation to other things, according to some kind of method or pattern. In a sense, the act of ordering gives meaning by eliminating randomness.
  • The artist strives to express the abstract things, like the feelings created when standing next to the sea, in a concrete, ordered, understandable way.
  • Wouldn't it have been cool if Stevens had written this poem in some kind of ordered way that eliminated the randomness of syllables in each line—Oh snap!
  • He did! Remember that whole blank verse discussion we had? (If not, check out our "Detailed Summary of stanza 1, as well as "Form and Meter.") 
  • The choice to use "words" here, rather than "song" as in previous lines, strengthens the extended metaphor of poetry.
  • The maker-poet also wants to "order" the words of "fragrant portals." This could be a reference to flower-filled porches and doorways in Key West.
  • The doorways are dimly lit off in the distance, like stars in the night sky. Using the word "starred" invites us to make the lights being described—the lights from the boats, doorways and windows—into stars and even constellations.
  • Stevens has given the random lights meaning, order! What are constellations if not the ordering of the un-orderable universe—an attempt to give meaning to the unknowable.
  • The maker also wants to order the words "of ourselves and of our origins." The artist-poet wants to order the words of humanity and even the mysteries of creation itself. Meaning of life, anyone? It sounds like a pretty tall order, but if anyone can do it, Wallace probably can.
  • The maker wants to order all these "words" from all these different sources with "demarcations," dividing lines. But the lines are ghostly—not solid, but definitely there, like the way things can pass through a ghost but there is still a line that defines the form of the ghost.
  • The maker wants to order all these words with ghostly divisions and keener (more highly developed) sounds. What is a six-letter word for a more highly developed use of language? Anyone? Anyone? Well, we don't know. How about… POETRY!
  • In poetry, the meanings of individual words aren't always as clear-cut as words in newspaper articles. In poems, different meanings and associations all come together and work on many different levels at the same time. The line between one meaning and another can get kind of blurry at times. Even the line between reality and imagination can get kind of blurry (ghost-like) in poetry. Hmm. Remind you of anything you've read lately?
  • The whole poem boils down to this: there is a very delicate relationship between the natural world and the world of imagination—between the external world and the internal. The artist, the poet, strives to show us this delicate world through paint or words or song. Once we've seen the world as the artist sees it, our perception of the world, of reality, may well be changed… forever.
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