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This article is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Stevens and Hughes: A Confluence of Rivers David Troupes

Take me back down where cool water flows
Let me remember things I love
    – Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Green River’

no ideas but in things
    – William Carlos Williams, ‘Paterson I’

The physical structures of the world become the structures of ideas about them. Thinking of an apple, attaching our thoughts to it, we are never free to think outside our experience, our reception, of those dry handfuls of water. I hope this is not simply a tautology: ‘We cannot think of an apple without thinking of an apple’. Rather, I mean we cannot think of an apple without granting that apple an agency. We cast a line to the apple and it is the apple that gets to tug. Insofar as we think, speak, write about the apple, the wooden bowl, the kitchen and the dark architecture of our own past, these things act through us.

This is why we can trust art to tell us about the world. It is why we value certain poets for their prophetic, not merely their aesthetic, abilities: theirs is an art in which imaginative structures translate physical structures with exemplary fidelity. I do not mean ‘structures’ too literally – not to suggest, for instance, that the branching shape of a tree is given some analogue in the formal elements of a poem – but rather that the mesh of interconnections by which the physical elements of the world stand in relation to each other, in all their detail and ...


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