Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

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In acknowledging the artifice of terraces as “bastions of our pastorals,” Winters affirms a tension. In one sense, the pastoral is readily associated with the natural, and bastions, the work of human hands, are restraints. To a certain kind of Romantic temperament, the imposition of restraints on nature is unnatural, and “unnatural” is the strongest possible term of condemnation. For Winters’s classical temperament, no such issue arises. The cultivation of nature, inevitably involving some measure of restraint, is simply one of the things that human beings do. The gardener arranges the garden in terraces supported by concrete, and the poet organizes the stuff of human emotion into the twenty syllables, regular stresses, and recurrent rhymes of the couplet. Moreover, in these activities poet and gardener imitate a quality of nature that Romantic temperaments sometimes overlook: the regularity suggested in the “metronomic” pulsing of fish’s mouths. This, says the poet, uttering what may be his strongest term of approbation, is “true.”

Winters, then, refuses to perceive life in the sentimental terms of a corrupt Romanticism. If what lies before the poet is not a vernal wood but a mowed lawn, the poet’s work is to observe that lawn so closely that he finds the life in it as Winters does here. “On a View of Pasadena from the Hills” implies a deep recognition and acceptance of limits as a part of life. The ultimately defining limit is death, awaited by the poet’s father and his friends and, after all, by the rest of humanity as well. This implies that even the closest human relationships, between parent and child for example, do not and should not exclude boundaries. Winters is exquisitely aware that he shares with his father all that belongs to the human condition, but he recognizes as well that he is not his father. In the light of that knowledge, he views his father’s circumstances with a sympathy that is not less honest or authentic because it is disillusioned.

As for Pasadena, the poet finally does not view it because it is concealed by mist. Yet it is nonetheless there, and a view of Pasadena concealed remains at some level a view of Pasadena. This is, the reader may feel, very much a poem about boundaries, limits, the edge, and the place between. It is not, however, a poem about uncertainty. To recognize the individual reality of whatever is on either side of the boundary is not, for this poet, to surrender to relativism. If this poem is listened to properly, it is possible to hear in it the affirmation of a man so little a slave to fashion that he was proud, in the middle of the twentieth century, to declare himself an absolutist.