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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Wallace Stevens: Examination of the Hero in a Time of War



F.W. Hunter, Army test pilot, Douglas Aircraft Company plant at Long Beach, California
: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, October 1942


The Got whome we serve is able to deliver
Us. Good chemistry, good common man, what
Of that angelic sword? Creature of
Ten times ten times dynamite, convulsive
Angel, convulsive stutterer, gun,
Click, click, the Got whome we serve is able,
Still, still, to deliver us, still magic.
Still moving yet motionless in smoke, still
Captain, the man of skill, the expert
Leader, the creator of bursting color
And rainbow sortilege, the savage weapon
Against enemies, against the prester,
Presto, whose whispers prickle the spirit.


The kind of man Hitler wishes we didn't have. A bomber pilot, captain in a bombardment squadron, just before he climbs aboard his huge YN-17 bombing plane
: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, May 1942


The hero is not a person. The marbles
Of Xenophon, his epitaphs, should
Exhibit Xenophon, what he was, since
Neither his head nor horse nor
Legend were part of what he was, forms
Of a still-life, symbols, brown things to think of
In brown books. The marbles of what he was stand
Like a white abstraction only, a feeling
In a feeling mass, a blank emotion,
An anti-pathos, until we call it
Xenophon, its implement and actor.
Obscure Satanas, make a model
Of this element, this force. Transfer it
Into a barbarism as its image.


Tank crew standing in front of an M-4 tank, Ft. Knox, Kentucky: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, October 1942


If the hero is not a person, the emblem
Of him, even if Xenophon, seems
To stand taller than a person stands, has
A wider brow, large and less human
Eyes and brutest ears: the man-like body
Of a primitive. He walks with a defter
And lither stride. His arms are heavy
And his breast is greatness. All his speeches
Are prodigies in longer phrases.
His thoughts begotten at clear sources,
Apparently in air, fall from him
Like chantering from an abundant
Poet, as if he thought gladly, being
Compelled thereto by an innate music.


Lieutenant "Mike" Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, October 1942

Wallace Stevens: Examination of the Hero in a Time of War (excerpts), from Parts of a World, 1942

Photos by Alfred T. Palmer from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress


Marylinn Kelly said...

The combination of Wallace Stevens and the remarkably crisp, vivid photos, tell a story that keeps this war's grief fresh. You do have a rare gift for creating the bigger picture by assembling the pieces.

TC said...

Thanks Marylinn.

Yes, "assembling the pieces" feels about right. Everybody's invited to help with the putting-together.