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Wallace Stevens' poem "Anecdote of the Box" is one of the most well-known and fascinating poems of the twenty-first century. Stevens' poem, written in 1918 and published a few years later, has retained its meaning and suspense to this day. Despite the poem's short length of three quatrain stanzas, Stevens was able to convey an important message. However, because of Stevens' word use, the poem has created a variety of meanings. Stevens used poetic techniques such as irony and figurative imagery, among others, in a remarkable way that merits poetic study. As such, a line by line analysis is essential in comprehending the meaning of the poem and exploration of the various poetic devices applied.
The overall poem is based on activities surrounding a jar that is introduced in the first line by the persona. Additionally, the poem picks the state of Tennessee as the place where the activities occur. Also notable in the first line is the fact that the jar was placed rather than dropped implying a deliberate action. The second line explains that the jar is round and that it is located on a hill. The purpose of pointing out that the jar was placed on a hill implies that the events following the placement were clearly seen and noticed. In fact, this is made clear in line three and four where the effects of the jar start to manifest. It is vivid that the jar is powerful since it greatly affects its entire surroundings, the hill. This is made clear in line four where there is mention of the hill rather than only the immediate surroundings of the jar being affected. More notable is the choice to use the word ‘slovenly’ in line three meaning that the jar’s effect was a deviation from the normal state. Moreover, the word slovenly facilitates application of imagery by painting a clear picture of the jar’s surroundings. Stevens also makes use of enjambment whereby line four is a continuation of line three.
The first line of the second stanza explains that the wilderness reacted to the jar’s presence by standing up to it. Use of the words ‘stand up to’ make use of personification in the line. The state of the wilderness’ reaction is explained by line two which shows the previous slovenliness being overcome. However, the jar still remains highly influential since the phrasing of the line implies the jar causes the landscape to circle it. This is further emphasized by the extensive use of words signifying circular motion in stanzas one and two including surround, round and around. Better yet, line three shows that the jar is not affected by the wilderness’ reaction since it remains round and unmoved on the ground. In this line there is use of assonance as the word round is closely followed by the word ground. Line four further explains the state of the jar as being tall, open and facing up. Use of the word tall is deliberate to show that the jar still retains control despite nature’s efforts. The fact that the jar is open may be taken figuratively to show there is some sort of interaction between the jar and nature.
Stanza three explains of the wilderness’ inability to completely overcome the jar’s influence. This is clearly explained in line one which points out that the jar took dominion everywhere. Line two points out to the jar’s state as being gray and bare. This line makes use of imagery in an effort to show the exact appearance of the jar. The jar’s state is further explained by line three which shows the jar did not yield significant contribution to the surroundings. Additionally, the line is phrased in a manner suggesting that the lack of contribution is not due to inability but rather lack of care. Line four shows that the jar is completely different from everything else in Tennessee due to its inability to bring forth significant contribution. The overall theme depicts a transformative theme clearly set by the changing state of the jar to gaining more power over time.
In writing the entire poem Stevens did not focus on using rhyming words making it a free verse. Although the poem has received varying interpretations, it may arguably be taken to carry a simple meaning, human influence on nature. As such, there is extensive use of symbolism and figurative language whereby the jar represents people. Human settlements have always been known to disturb the natural state of nature. However, despite nature’s reaction to human encroachment, people continue with their normal activities ignoring the influences, some negative, on nature. For instance, although there is clear knowledge of global warming and its effects, people still engage in damaging activities such as use of coal. People remain in control over nature which is clearly indicated by the fact that the jar is placed at the top of the hill and that nature has to grow round the jar.
Stevens, W. (1918). Anecdote of the Jar. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51648/anecdote-of-the-jar-56d22f87dc64f
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