The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” is one of the longer poems in Wallace Stevens’s first collection, Harmonium. It consists of twelve eleven-line stanzas of flexible blank verse. Its title has multiple reverberations, as its sound play and its French title distance the poem from the author. Readers are asked to accept that they are looking through the uncle’s monocle and not the poet’s own eyes. The title turns the poem into a kind of dramatic monologue, except that the poem’s emphasis is not on characterizing the speaker, as is generally the case in a true dramatic monologue, but on posing and answering, or attempting to answer, philosophical questions. It presents a persona who is aging, disappointed in love, and skeptical about religion. This world-weary speaker explores the nature of desire and inquires how desire translates into art.

Beginning with a mocking speech, perhaps part of a quarrel, the narrator examines his relationship with a woman, presumably his wife. He proceeds to examine the nature of the man-woman situation in general. His tone is of fatigue, disappointment, and withdrawal. He describes an apparent rejection and compares the present with the past: “The radiant bubble that she was.” He is aware of how old he has become and of how he is edging toward death: “I am a man of fortune greeting heirs;/ For it has come that thus I greet the spring.” The poem develops a meditation on sex and death as the speaker muses on...

(The entire section is 538 words.)