The Idea of Order at Key West Questions and Answers
by Wallace Stevens

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What are the elements of abstraction in Stevens' poem "The Idea of Order at Key West?"

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Wallace Stevens's poem "The Idea of Order at Key West" is an abstract poem that is difficult even for experts to comprehend. It is in part about the difference between the creation of art and reality.

The image at the beginning of the poem is a woman who is singing over the sea: "She sang beyond the genius of the sea" (line 1). In the second stanza, Stevens writes that he heard her, not the ocean and that the two sounds never joined fully: "The song and water were not medleyed sound" (line 9). In the third stanza, Stevens differentiates between the ocean and the singer: "For she was the maker of the song she sang. /The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea /Was merely a place by which she walked to sing" (lines 15-17). Stevens continues to struggle to define the difference between art and reality, and in the next stanza he says of the woman's voice "But it was more than that, /More even than her voice, and ours" (lines 28-29). In other words, her voice is not just voice, but it becomes more than just singing over the ocean. In the next stanza, which is the only one that is indented, he writes, "It was her voice that made /The sky acutest at its vanishing" (lines 34-35). In other words, her voice has had an effect on the sky as dusk appears. In the last stanza, he speaks to his friend, Ramon Fernandez, and notes that the lights from the town affect the ocean. He writes that the lights "Mastered the night and portioned out the sea" (line 49). In other words, the lights, man-made creations, affect the way the sea looks.

In the final stanza, Stevens cries out for a "rage for order" (line 52). In other words, he wants the creator of art to somehow control nature and connects this rage to our earliest incarnations as humans. The urge to control reality is strong in the artist, Stevens is saying, but the artist's "rage" suggests that it is difficult to do so. 

 

 

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