Of Modern Poetry
How we cite our quotes:
It has to […] speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear. (11-15)
In order for it to be spiritually fulfilling, modern poetry can't go talking about what a terrible place the world is and how terrible the people in it are (are you listening, T.S. Eliot?). Poetry needs to speak to the most delicate part of us and make us feel a deep sense of comfort. It has to tell our souls exactly what they want to hear: that the universe is a good place and that life is worth living.
The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark (19-20)
In the midst of World War Two, Stevens probably felt like the modern world was running around in darkness, looking for anything at all to believe in. But there weren't many examples of human goodness at the time. So Stevens says here that even when things seem dark and we don't have any clear principles to light our way, we need to keep searching in the darkness for something basic to believe in, something that can keep us all going.
twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses. (21-22)
If modern poetry is just like twanging a string on a guitar, then it must be a pretty crude instrument for understanding the world. Nonetheless, the hope that we find in this little bit of twang gives us sudden moments of feeling "rightness" in our hearts. The sound is comforting not because it's beautiful, but because the person playing it is bravely playing on in the darkness.