Anecdote of the Jar

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Tennessee, lying midway between the fruitful Southern climes of Florida and the wintery North, represents a perfect location for Wallace Stevens to explore his attitudes toward the sort of creative identity he makes for himself in either location. The South, characterized by its warmth and wildness clashes with the “gray and bare” (10) industrial North on that hill in Tennessee in “Anecdote of the Jar”. Though the jar takes dominion, the poet does not necessarily place favor on either side of the conflict since Stevens was “of two minds… about this midway South” (Stevens, 208). Here we see that Stevens is in a place both geographically and poetically between the two extremes. He has not yet reached his destination on his poetic journey, but seems closer to the beginning of his trip than the end. Old images of nature and Keats’ Urn crop up here in Tennessee and though he has not yet finished “taking the leaves off the tree”, Stevens he has more than begun to strip it bare. “Anecdote of the Jar” reflects Stevens’ ambivalence about man’s ability to create order in a chaotic world and the role of the artist or poet in using old forms to create a new order.

The jar, a man made object, represents the power of human creation through art to control and confine natural creation. Stevens jar is more than a simple container, it is able to both define and confine the natural setting that it surrounds, since it “took dominion everywhere” (9). The order imposed by the jar is able to tame the wilderness which “rose up to it” (5), but is rendered “no longer wild” (6). The jar’s roundness is its defining characteristic and is indeed the first attribute ascribed to it (2). The sound of “round” dominates the poem just as the jar dominates nature...

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...oint of vivid contrast. The jar helps to create a locus of order in what is apparently a disorganized system, yet in reality, the wilderness too has its own sort of order. It has been one aim of art to reflect, imitate, or oppose that order. As a poet, Stevens is faced with the challenge of using the poetic form, the jar, in a way that is fresh and interesting. In order to do this, he must strip bare the urn left to him by Keats. When the urn is stripped of the images of Spring melodies and enraptured lovers, we are left with the form of the jar. The jar is lifeless and bare, but not necessarily barren. It is the medium onto which Stevens can develop his own poetic voice and identity. At this, the midpoint on his journey between South and North, Stevens has completed the task of cleaning out all the old images and is now able to begin to fill the jar with new ones.
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