The Reading Eagle recently tweeted out an archival story about Reading native Wallace Stevens winning an award for poetry in 1936. Stevens’ ‘The Men That Are Falling’ won the award out of more than 2,000 poems submitted to the Nation magazine, and it was published in the magazine that fall.
From the article: “Editors of The Nation said Stevens’ work is marked by a scrupulous regard equalled by few of the present-day poets.”
Stevens had published Harmonium in 1923. Two decades before the end of his life, he was working as vice president of a Hartford insurance company, and this poem would go on to be published as the concluding poem of the collection The Man with the Blue Guitar . I have read that it may be a sort of elegy to the fallen soldiers of the Spanish civil war.
The Men That Are Falling
God and all angels sing the world to sleep
Now that the moon is rising in the heat
And crickets are loud again in the grass. The moon
Burns in the mind on lost remembrances.
He lies down and the night wind blows upon him here.
The bells grow longer. This is not sleep. This is desire.
Ah! Yes, desire…this leaning on his bed,
This leaning on his elbows on his bed,
Staring, at midnight, at the pillow that is black
In the catastrophic room…beyond despair,
Like an intenser instinct. What is it he desires?
But this he cannot know, the man that thinks,
Yet life itself, the fulfillment of desire
In the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily
At a head upon the pillow in the dark,
More than sudarium, speaking the speech
Of absolutes, bodiless, a head
Thick-lipped from riot and rebellious cries
Speak and say the immaculate syllables
That he spoke only by doing what he did.
God and all angels, this was his desire,
Whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.
Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips,
O pensioners, O demagogues and pay-men!
This death was his belief though death is a stone.
This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die.
The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent
Over words that are life’s voluble utterance.