The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

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“Farewell Without a Guitar”—in which a lover accepts and laments the end of an affair—is a short lyric in five variable-meter, three-line stanzas. In typical Wallace Stevens fashion, it works essentially by indirection; that is, Stevens lets metaphors and images represent the feelings involved in the situation. The poem is nevertheless eloquent and evocative, and every nuance of feeling is shaped with subtlety.

The title begins the articulation of mood. “Farewell Without a Guitar” is an inversion of a popular title for Romantic lyric piano pieces, “Songs Without Words.” These are “Words Without Music”—the unaccompanied lyric poem. Stevens implies that solitary words can reflect and induce moods as well as music. The title also indicates that the poem is a statement of parting, final but wistful: The persona wishes that it had not come to this, but he accepts it with a sigh.

The first stanza documents the loss. This marks the end of “spring’s bright paradise”—of all the hopes and expectations caught up in the onset of the romance, of all the fantasies triply multiplied by the three terms, each of which separately connotes hope, growth, flowering, and fruition. The tree planted in that soil comes to this end: The “thousand-leaved green” reaches the end of despair and comes fluttering down. The persona bids farewell, significantly to “his days.” The suggestion is that he now has nothing left but nights.

In the second stanza, the green has changed to red: Leaves change color in fall, but the hopes have also been killed. The color is spectacular, brilliant, a “thunder of light”—as much a crescendo of color and sight as thunder is a crescendo of sound. It occurs at the “autumnal terminal,” again a multiple connotation: Autumn is the season of fall and endings, and terminal is an end-stop, not a point of departure.

The next two stanzas transfer to a parallel scene: a landscape depicting the aftermath of a sudden storm in Aragon, a region in Spain. The countryside is still, shocked into submission. All that moves is a single horse, hanging its head, saddled but riderless. The sequence of images, like a transposition of keys in music, makes this scene the emotional equivalent of the departing lover’s feelings. The details can only be suggested here. Some include the sense of survival, the lack of direction, the stunned absence of feeling, and the desperate search for shelter by one left at the limit of his strength. Light echoes and eddies across the landscape, which lies bruised and battered, not ready to recuperate.

At the end, Stevens focuses on the final sense of this severance. The horse leads to it: The fact that he lacks a rider symbolizes the quintessential male feeling about this situation. The lover has lost control, which largely means losing his maleness. That reveals only his partial perception, however, for he was not the only one involved. “The rider that was” is one pole (“male reality”), but there remains that of “that other and her desire.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533

It is frequently difficult to name Stevens’s figures and techniques, because he often does not conform to conventional means. His predecessors are difficult to identify; his methods seem idiosyncratic and of his own devising. His poetry is an art of indirection, implication, and suggestion. The reader new to Stevens often wonders why he does not simply say what he means. The answer is that he does. It is simply that what he means is complex and not statable in conventional ways. Perhaps the easiest way to approach his work is through the observations that he likes to play with words, ideas, and sounds and that he proceeds largely by suggestion. This kind of playfulness and allusiveness has already been noted in the poem’s title: This is a sad little song, like a minor-key Spanish guitar piece about parting, except that this lacks the sonority of accompaniment.

“Farewell Without a Guitar” begins by establishing the end of “spring’s bright paradise” and everything promised by spring: the advent of light, growth, flowering, love. Spring is the season of love; its bright paradise is the ecstasy of falling in love, a time when all the senses become tuned to expectation, when one’s entire being is caught up in hope. All of this has come to ruin: “the thousand-leaved green falls to the ground.” Literally, this is the falling of the leaves; metaphorically, it is the desolation of all hope. The tree of promise, “leaved” in spring, is now bare; the thousand leaves are no more, and the green has departed. In taking leave of his days, the persona metaphorically asserts that his life is over.

The green turns red before the fall: It both comes to a stop and flames up in sacrifice. Stevens continues by arranging evocative words, drawing out connotations in sequence. “Thunder of light” is at first paradoxical, but then resolves by way of crossing senses: The sacrificial blaze of fall colors is equivalent to a peal of thunder, and the leaves are so many light-reflecting facets. The thunder of light also operates on other levels. The fall of a thousand leaves collectively makes a thunderous sound, and the light released through the new bare tree strikes like a clap of thunder.

The thunder bridges into the image of the “Spanish storm,” which centers on a riderless horse walking home. The riderless horse appears in formal military funerals, and even if that specific association is not intended, it aptly sums up the feeling of loss and lack of direction, especially when joined with the reference to “the rider that was.” Together these reinforce a feeling of remorse, which leads to the next phrase, “the reflections and repetitions.” This primarily refers to the way the survivor endlessly replays the relationship in his mind, trying to determine what went wrong. This merely reproduces the pain, “the blows and buffets of fresh senses.” Together these form a “final construction”—a composition in the imagination, which alone contains all these ingredients. In this case, it is a combination of “male reality” (the sense of desolation) and “that other and her desire” (the woman who continues to attract him, but does not desire him).


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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 119

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