“But play you must, a tune beyond us yet ourselves”

This post was written by Reuben Bard-Rosenberg on February 12, 2010
Posted Under: Culture

The Man with the Blue Guitar, was a poem written in the 1937 by American poet Wallace Stevens. Stevens was certainly not a Marxist. Yet it is a work which I find politically thought provoking. It seems to offer something about what it means to be a revolutionary – about the ambiguity of engaging vigorously with the world as it stands before us, but always with at least one eye on a world turned truly upside down, about the problematic desire to look and stand beyound that in which we are necessarily enmeshed.

The Man With The Blue Guitar
by Wallace Stevens

One

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 to him, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

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

Two

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero’s head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If a serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.

Three

A tune beyond us as we are,
Yet nothing changed by the blue guitar;

Ourselves in tune as if in space,
Yet nothing changed, except the place

Of things as they are and only the place
As you play them on the blue guitar,
Placed, so, beyond the compass of change,
Perceived in a final atmosphere;

For a moment final, in the way
The thinking of art seems final when

The thinking of god is smoky dew.
The tune is space. The blue guitar

Becomes the place of things as they are,
A composing of senses of the guitar.

Four

Tom-tom c’est moi. The blue guitar
And I are one. The orchestra

Fills the high hall with shuffling men
High as the hall. The whirling noise

Of a multitude dwindles, all said,
To his breath that lies awake at night.

I know that timid breathing. Where
Do I begin and end? And where,

As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentarily declares

Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else.

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