Study Guide

The Idea of Order at Key West Spirituality

By Wallace Stevens

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She sang beyond the genius of the sea. (1)

The genius in line 1 isn't Shmoop (though you'd be forgiven for thinking so). Stevens is referring to genius in terms of the spirit associated with place or thing—the spirit of the sea.

Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves (3-4)

"Wholly" sounds just like… holy. Put it next to body and, even though the word and the literal meaning are different, most people are going to think "holy body." Put that together with the fluttering of empty sleeves and we get some pretty clear spirit imagery—almost a ghostly figure. Pretty sneaky stuff there, Wallace, pretty sneaky.

For she was the maker
[…] for she was the maker. (15-40)

The phrase "the maker" echoes religious references to The Maker, the big guy… you know, God. When we consider that big extended metaphor of "she," the singer, as the artist-poet, we can see the artist as maker and art as religion.

Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew (18-19)

Seeking "the spirit" sounds pretty, well, spiritual. And with that "wholly body" still in our ears from the first stanza, there is an echo of Holy Spirit here as well.

Oh! Blessed rage for order […]
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
[…] And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations (52-56)

We get lots of religious and spiritual language and imagery here, with words like "Blessed" and "maker." Even "order" has religious undertones when you consider the existence of religious orders (groups like monks and nuns who live and study together), and also the theological order or ranking of angels. There is also the idea of our "origins." It is tough to discuss the origins of life without someone bringing up religion and the Big Guy. And if you're still not buying the spiritual elements in the poem, there is a ghost (i.e., the Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit) in the last line. Boom! Shmoop wins!

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