Stevens: The Idea of Order at Key West
Just as in William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All” spring needs winter to blossom, in “The Idea of Order at Key West” order, or the perception of order cannot exist without the looming force of disorder behind it. The speaker in the poem struggles to parse the the sounds of the sea and the woman’s song, to find a some cohesive pattern to what he is perceiving.
She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.
The second line of the poem, “The water never formed to mind or voice,” illustrates the challenge of reconciling the disordered world with our limited perceptions. The ocean is beyond all human concepts of order and will never be able to be understood through the mind or voice, which are the two main ways we experience and attempt to understand the world.
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of sea
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
The final stanza underlines both the acuteness of the desire for order, and the futility of attempting to order something as vastly unorganized as the sea, through words. In comparison to reality words are weak and insufficient for the job of beholding the world.