The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Nine (Stevens)


“Gray Room”
Sometimes a poem builds in perfect and unanticipated ways towards the last line. The journey is beautiful, though seemingly not extraordinary, and then BAM–we’re hit with that line–the one that makes our bodies shudder and our minds and hearts split open. “Gray Room” had that sort of impact on me. I was lured in by the lovely description–which is polite, composed, and refined–but it felt pleasant and nothing more–until I got to the end. The last line, which is so vital and alive, hit me with all the more force due to the contrast in tone to all of the lines preceding it. I went from being a tourist looking out the window at a mountain to realizing I was in my native land, right at the lip of the volcano.
Gray Room

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl–
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you…
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

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