Study Guide

Anecdote of the Jar Shapes

By Wallace Stevens


The idea of roundness and shape is quite important in this poem. The wilderness, sprawling and unkempt, has no defined shape. That's a sharp contrast to the jar, the shape of which is discussed a lot in the poem. So, the poem seems to highlight the differences between the unchecked wilderness and the man-made world, partly by contrasting the shapeless with the shaped.

  • Line 1: At once when we think of a jar, we see the shape: an immediate sense of roundness comes into our minds. 
  • Line 2: Sure enough, here's confirmation that the jar is round. Not only is the jar round, but it's on a hill, another image of roundness. When we think of round, we think of a smooth, man-made edge. 
  • Line 3: Here, we see that the wilderness is slovenly—wild, overgrown, conforming to no shape. 
  • Line 7: The idea that the jar is round is repeated again here. Now, the poem almost starts to sound round, because of this repetition. 
  • Line 8: Not only is the jar round, but it's tall, and has a presence, and perhaps a function, letting the air come in and out of it like ships in a harbor. Thus, the word "port" has a possible metaphorical meaning. It could be comparing the jar to a port in water. In that case, though, it's a port in air.

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