by Wallace Stevens
Have you ever been around the kind of old married couple where one person always speaks on behalf of the other person? You’ll ask the wife something, for example, and the husband will answer, as if he thinks that he knows her mind better than she knows it herself. Our speaker, though not the woman’s husband, is one of those types. For the entire poem, he’s telling us what the woman thinks as she eats her breakfast. But, he can’t help himself and keeps interrupting with his own thoughts about Roman myth, or the meaning of death, or questions about whether fruit fall in heaven.
Fortunately, however, he actually does know the woman as well as she knows herself: that’s the beauty of being a poet. He gets to go inside her head and quote from her thoughts, as he does at the beginning of stanzas IV and V. But, he also has knowledge and opinions of his own, and he gets into something like a dialogue with the woman in the middle of the poem, to help her come to terms with change and the natural cycle of death and birth. He’s like the therapist who lives inside her head, and asks the right questions at the right times to nudge her along the path to understanding.
Aside from that, he’s a smart guy. If we had to guess, we’d bet he went to good schools and studied his Shakespeare and the classic Greek and Roman myths. He can sound a bit pretentious when he uses words like "complacencies" and "peignoir," or when he talks about old-fashioned things like "maidens" and "lutes." But, he can’t be that pretentious, because he’s really fascinated by this normal woman eating a late breakfast instead of going to church. We’re also pretty sure that he would have a membership to the Sierra Club or some other environmental group: he and the woman are both huge nature-lovers. Especially birds. Boy, do they love birds.