Anecdote of the Jar Analysis
by Wallace Stevens

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Anecdote of the Jar Analysis

"Anecdote of the Jar" by Wallace Stevens is a poem that has been interpreted in many ways by literary scholars and critics since its publication. When reading the poem, one has to understand the techniques and style that Stevens employs in his writings.

He is very particular about the language that he uses. Since the setting of the poem is rural Tennessee, one can assume that Stevens is mimicking the linguistic nuances of the region's populace. For instance, despite being a well-educated man, Stevens uses a double-negative in the poem. This style of speaking is common among rural Southerners.

Despite the title and its prominence in the poem, the jar itself is not the only subject; another is the American wilderness. The description Stevens uses in the poem should be viewed from a literal perspective. Meaning, Stevens was not speaking abstractly when he stated, "It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill." He was describing what the surrounding environment looked like when seen through the dirty jar.

Stevens was imagining what the American wilderness would look like if placed in a jar, which is a man-made object. Thus, the poem can be interpreted as a commentary on pollution, or nature versus the synthetic.

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” is a short lyric poem of three four-line stanzas that explore certain aspects of the relationship between art and the natural world. Although the lines have no definite, formal meter they are generally iambic with four stresses per line. With few exceptions, the words used in the poem are all commonplace and monosyllabic, allowing Stevens to employ at key points a variety of hammer-stroke rhythms for emphasis. The appearance at intervals of those words that are more than one syllable (“slovenly,” “wilderness,” and “dominion,” for example) help emphasize the poem’s dominant theme, the gulf between art and nature in the contrast between the short and “natural” words and the longer and “artistic” words. While there is no formal rhyming scheme to the poem, Stevens’s characteristic skill with sounds, in particular consonants in the middle of words and the repetition of key words, helps link the piece together as well as further emphasizes the difference between “nature” and “art” or “artifice.”

Ostensibly, “Anecdote of the Jar” is a straightforward, even simple, account of a commonplace action by the unnamed speaker, presumably Stevens himself. The speaker of the poem places a glass jar on the side of a hill in Tennessee. No reason is given for this action (as one shall see, the action of placing the jar is symbolic of artistic creation, which has no “reason” in the natural sense). Furthermore, this action takes place in the first line of “Anecdote of the Jar”; the rest of the poem is a reflection on what it means to have set the jar in the middle of the woods and what the jar’s presence means for the poet, his readers, and the entire natural world.

In the first stanza, Stevens uses the verb “placed” to describe his action with the jar. What the speaker does with the jar is not an idle, unreflective deed but rather a conscious act; indeed, it is symbolic of artistic creation, and in a sense it is itself an artistic action. By the fact that it has so been placed, the jar, an artificial object, immediately affects the “slovenly wilderness,” first by causing the wilderness to “surround that hill” and then, in the second stanza, forcing that wilderness to become “no longer wild.” By the third and final stanza the jar has assumed control of the entire natural landscape (“It took dominion everywhere”) and has in fact supplanted the natural landscape, the artificial world imposing its ideals of order and aesthetics on nature itself. Significantly, the jar “surrounds” and “takes dominion everywhere” without visible motion or activity but simply by the fact of its presence, its mere existence as counterpart and...

(The entire section is 1,203 words.)