Metamorphosis pp 399-417 | Cite as

The Dream of Ascent and the Noise of Earth: Paradoxical Inclinations in Euripides’ Bacchae, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Stevens’ “Of Modern Poetry”

  • Howard Pearce
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 81)


In Wallace Stevens’ “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” the Platonic dream of ascent toward the Heavens elicits a demurral in the modern spirit. We “recognize” but do not “participate in” the figurative ascent in the Phaedrus, in which the noble soul ascends by means of the “noble ... winged horses ... of the gods ... [ — ] soars upward, and is the ruler of the universe.”2 For us, Stevens says — the poet’s imagination working perhaps like the light of the sun on Icarus’ wings–”the figure becomes antiquated and rustic”; our transit describes an arc downward, to earth: “we droop in our flight and at last settle on the solid ground.” Although the impulse to descend to earth is recurrent and overtly thematic in Stevens’ poetry, it might be observed as recurring suggestively in the plays of Shakespeare and Euripides to be discussed here.


Cultural Object Sweet Noise Christian Woman Platonic Idea Modern Poetry 
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  1. 1.
    I cite the Bacchae from translations, comparing several types. For an older, semantically conservative version, I use the Loeb Classical Library, translated by Arthur S. Way (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP; London: Heinemann, 1912) (cited as “Way’’). It conveniently sets up Greek text and English translation on opposite pages. For a scholarly text with substantial explanatory notes I use the Prentice-Hall Greek Drama Series, translated by Geoffrey S. KirkGoogle Scholar
  2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970) (cited as “Kirk’’). I occasionally, when significant, cite comparisons of these with a prose translation downloaded from The Internet Classics Archive (cited as “Internet’’Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose ( New York: Library of America, 1997 ), p. 643.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1997 ) I developed implications from Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer in trying to effect a phenomenological analysis of this idea. Since this book, I have continued to pursue thoughts that, in general terms, would characterize the theater dream metaphor as a version of the idea of possible worlds. A recent book by Mihai I. Spariosu, The Wreath of Wild Olive: Play, Liminality, and the Study of Literature ( Albany: State U of New York P, 1997Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Emmanuel Levinas, Discovering Existence with Husserl, Trans. Richard A. Cohen and Michael B. Smith (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1998 ), p. 57.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    J. S. Leonard and C. E. Wharton, The Fluent Mundo: Wallace Stevens and the Structure of Reality (Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1988) respond (pp. 83–102) to Thomas J. Hines’s reading of Stevens’ poetry as developing, early to late, from Husserlian toward Heideggerian insights (The Later Poetry of Wallace Stevens: Phenomenological Parallels with Husserl and Heidegger [Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 1976]).Google Scholar
  7. American Pragmatism’s influence on Husserl’s phenomenology has been observed by Herbert Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, 2 volumes (The Hague: Nijhoff,1960).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Martin Heidegger, “What Calls for Thinking?’’ in David Farrell Krell (ed.), Basic Writings ( New York: Harper & Row, 1977 ), p. 350.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Ed. Northrop Frye ( New York: Penguin, 1970 ).Google Scholar
  10. The ideas of music I intend here range from the classical conception of the “music of the spheres’’ to the Dionysian music that affronts divine harmony–gives it, one might say, the raspberry. Music as idea and various aspects of the text has been explored insightfully by Russ McDonald, “Reading The Tempest,’’ Shakespeare Survey 43 (1991): 15–28), reprinted in Donald Keesey, Contextsfor Criticism, Third Edition (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1997), pp. 108–120.Google Scholar
  11. It is likely, of course, that Caliban remained a potential image of the poet from early in Stevens’ career. Beverly Coyle (“Remembering Holly,’’ Wallace Stevens Journal 16 [[1992]: 205–221) observes that Stevens and his daughter Holly “had something of the ugly duckling in them (Stevens called himself Caliban in an early poem)’’ (p. 213).Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    The Italian city of Palmanova, north of Venice, was first designed in 1593 and “is a perfectly shaped polygonal city frozen in its tracks for all of four centuries’’ (Spiro Kostof, The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History [Boston: Little, Brown, 1991 ], pp. 160–161 ).Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    In response to this figure of the grotesque poet, I have already directed attention to the Nietzschean interpretation of the Archilochean, satyric poet as Dionysian (World Phenomenology Institute Conference on Phenomenology and Literature, Cambridge MA, 2000 ). Published as “Poiesis and the Withdrawal: The Garden-Motive in Henry James, Wallace Stevens, and David Mamet ” (Analecta Husserliana 75 [2002]: 253–278 ).Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” Poetical Works (London: Oxford UP, 1958), Vol. 4, Edited by Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, I, p. 18.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Robert Frost, Poetry, Edited by Edward Connery Lathem (New York: Holt Rinehart, 1969 ), pp. 226–227.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard Pearce
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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