The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Man with the Blue Guitar” is a long poem consisting of thirty-three rather short sections in four-beat couplets, most of them unrhymed. The title, which reminds the reader of a Pablo Picasso painting by the same title, suggests a musical piece, though more in the sense of an improvisation than a formal musical composition (something that Wallace Stevens imitates effectively in “Peter Quince at the Clavier”).

The poem starts out in the third person but switches to the first person, so the piece becomes a dialogue between the guitarist and his audience, which acts as a kind of chorus. The chorus seems to pose certain idealized questions about its own place in poetry. Rejecting those overtures, the guitarist says that he plays things “as they are,” although things “Are changed upon the blue guitar.” He then goes on to improvise in various ways about how this might be done—in essence, about how poetry is related to the audience or to the world in general.

Stevens himself was an insurance executive, so he knew the world in a practical sense; yet he was also a poet, a creator. Though he did not confuse the two worlds, he saw them as coextensive. In “The Man with the Blue Guitar” he takes the reader into the world of the poet and asks the reader to see, feel, or improvise about the world from the poet’s perspective.

Sections I-VI set the stage for the musical drama. Stevens tests out various interrelationships...

(The entire section is 516 words.)