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  • Poems from Ideas of Order: “Lions in Sweden,” “Botanist on Alp (No. 1),” and “Botanist on Alp (No. 2)”
  • Lisa Goldfarb, Tony Sharpe, Charles Altieri, Massimo Bacigalupo, Bart Eeckhout, Gül Bilge Han, Glen MacLeod, Rachel Malkin, Maureen N. McLane, Edward Ragg, and Juliette Utard

PREFATORY NOTE: The transcript of this second seminar, which took place on June 20, 2017, in Bogliasco, Italy, uses the following abbreviations: LG (Lisa Goldfarb, Gallatin School, New York University), TS (Tony Sharpe, Lancaster University), CA (Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley), MB (Massimo Bacigalupo, University of Genoa), BE (Bart Eeckhout, University of Antwerp & Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study), GH (Gül Bilge Han, Stockholm University), GM (Glen MacLeod, University of Connecticut), RM (Rachel Malkin, University of Oxford), MM (Maureen N. McLane, New York University), ER (Edward Ragg, Beijing), JU (Juliette Utard, Sorbonne University & CNRS). The transcript was heavily edited for readability and circulated among participants for fine-tuning; it thus reproduces the dynamic of exchange without in any way striving to be literal. Readers who come upon this material outside the special issue to which it belongs are advised to read the editorial introduction for an account of the rationale behind the following discussion.

Saturated Sibilants and Pseudo-Logic

LG:

Let me start our second seminar by reading out “Lions in Sweden”:

No more phrases, Swenson: I was onceA hunter of those sovereigns of the soulAnd savings banks, Fides, the sculptor’s prize,All eyes and size, and galled Justitia,Trained to poise the tables of the law, [End Page 29] Patientia, forever soothing wounds,And mighty Fortitudo, frantic bass.But these shall not adorn my souvenirs,These lions, these majestic images.If the fault is with the soul, the sovereignsOf the soul must likewise be at fault, and first.If the fault is with the souvenirs, yet theseAre the soul itself. And the whole of the soul, Swenson,As every man in Sweden will concede,Still hankers after lions, or, to shift,Still hankers after sovereign images.If the fault is with the lions, send them backTo Monsieur Dufy’s Hamburg whence they came.The vegetation still abounds with forms.

(CPP 102)
LG:

We can situate this poem in 1934 because of the allusion to a banking scandal involving Eric P. Swenson, who was director and chairman of the National City Bank of New York and the son of a prominent Swedish financier. As Al Filreis has demonstrated, the scandal was a starting point for the poem (70). In terms of its placement in The Collected Poems, “Lions in Sweden” sits between “Meditation Celestial & Terrestrial” and “How to Live. What to Do.” Both of these concern Stevens’s observations of the separateness of nature. To quote from the former: “what are radiant reason and radiant will / To warblings early in the hilarious trees / Of summer, the drunken mother?” (CPP 102). In “How to Live. What to Do,” “There was / Only the great height of the rock / And the two of them standing still to rest” (CPP 103). “Lions in Sweden” transports us to sounds of Sweden. Personally, I think it’s the s sound in “Swenson” and “Sweden” that is more important than any reference to the historical figure of Swenson or the actual country. The poem presents itself structurally in one stanza of nineteen unrhymed lines. There is a lot of repetition of particular words—“Swenson,” “sovereigns,” “images,” “souvenirs,” “soul,” “fault,” “lions,” “still hankers”—and sibilants run through these words. The poem starts from a consideration of stilled images of lions—and here I can’t but think of sculpted lions in front of majestic buildings, which I’ve been noticing everywhere since my arrival in Italy: in front of churches in Genoa and opulent private houses in Rapallo, or right here at the entrance of the Villa dei Pini where we’ve gathered.1 Those majestic images spur the poem. Stevens asks himself, “What do such images from the past still mean today?” I also can’t help but think of “lions” as echoing “lines,” as if the title should be read also as “Lines in Sweden.” As in so many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-0570
Print ISSN
0148-7132
Pages
pp. 29-50
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-13
Open Access
No
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