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This article is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

Some Notes on the Blue Guitar Andrew Waterman

HERE'S the first section of Wallace Steven's poem, "The Man with the Blue Guitar":


The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, 'You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.'

The man replied, 'Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'

And they said then, 'But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.'


That, with directness yet subtle reverberations, presents the question of the nature of truth in art, a question Stevens pursues intricately through a further thirty-two sections. This poem, which meditates upon a guitarist shown in a picture, from Picasso's "blue period", which transfigures the "objective" world, deliberately collects the three arts of music, painting, poetry: the issue is taken to be general to them all. But particularly, for his own predicament is of course central to Stevens, we take the guitarist to stand for the poet; and already in the lines I have quoted a tension is established between him, as he declares "Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar", the instrument of his imagination, and the "they" of the poem who against his resistance want from him "A tune upon the blue guitar/Of things exactly as they are": an art, that is, of ...


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