Wallace Stevens’ poetry I both love and never fully understand. Perhaps it’s a lack of deep reading, perhaps it’s not knowing more of Stevens for the person he was, or perhaps I love his work just because.
I feel somewhat excused for it, the passion without reason, in the case of Table Talk. As per his words, sometimes we like things and we don’t know why, and why we like them is not important.
From the title, we expect the casual conversation; perhaps a simple statement on life or love, a broad and applicable remark. But we’re not met with this in the poem. It’s a little convoluted, it’s a little repetitive, and there’s an air of unfinished thought. In his book Modernism from Right to Left, Alan Filreis states that Stevens wasn’t completely happy with the poem, leaving it unpublished. Critics, too, weren’t massively impressed.
Now, whilst I might suggest some reasons why this is today’s pick (because the poem is wonderfully sporadic, because it resists the traditional function of poetry) there doesn’t have to be a reason.
Ultimately, what (I think!) Stevens is saying is simple. We have only one life, so don’t worry about those things, especially when they’re not so important. You like something? You love something? That could just happen to be, and that’s okay. In the same way, I love this poem, but can’t entirely figure out why. Maybe you’ll feel the same. Nevertheless, Stevens, you’ve got me again!
Granted, we die for good.
Life, then, is largely a thing
Of happens to like, not should.
And that, too, granted, why
Do I happen to like red bush,
Grey grass and green-gray sky?
What else remains? But red,
Gray, green, why those of all?
That is not what I said:
Not those of all. But those.
One likes what one happens to like.
One likes the way red grows.
It cannot matter at all.
Happens to like is one
Of the ways things happen to fall.