20 October 2006
A moon nailed fast
Tonight I sat thinking for a bit and realized I had been reading ‘This Solitude of Cataracts’ all wrong, and searched my shelf for a copy of the poem I hadn’t read in years. Sure enough, I had it all wrong. There is the tendency to view it as a ‘disease of the week’ poem, to perceive it as depicting someone who suffered from a disease of clouding of the eye and wanted to maintain a sensory relationship to the natural world, seeing. It struck my memory that I had been denying the metaphor its full force.
What I never saw was the disease of cataracts being a metaphor for the protagonist's longing for a clouded vision. That Stevens chose this metaphor indicates his perception of the desire for blindness to be a common disease that comes naturally and not through persuasion and socialization. The imagery used near the end of the poem elaborates on the capricious, frivolous, and vain nature of this natural folly, "To be a bronze man breathing under archaic lapis." How much we seek out blindness like our lives depended on it! And stepping back Stevens is making a commentary on poetry itself, that it must be a prologue rather than a tableau, that to fix it in the time-image is to submit to the machinery of blindness.