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...

(The entire section is 458 words.)