Of Mere Being

Of Mere Being

By Wallace Stevens

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Summary of Of Mere Being

  • Popularity of “Of Mere Being”: Although it is stated that this short poem appeared in 1957 in the collection, Opus Posthumous, it also appeared later in several other collections. Wallace Stevens’ skill in writing cryptic poetic pieces seems at its peak in this poem as it shows how he defines living knowledge and the limits of the mind. The beauty and popularity of the poem lie in the complexity of unraveling the knowledge of songs that seems foreign to human senses.
  • “Of Mere Being” As a Representative of Limits of Thoughts: The poet, who happens to be the speaker of the poem, states cryptically that the bronze decoration or ornamentation rises above when he reaches the limits of his thoughts. This is the end of his mind and beyond this, he fails to think of anything. Implicitly comparing it to “a foreign song” that is always beyond human understanding, the poet argues that sometimes it happens that just existence makes us happy or unhappy without having any reason. Yet the singing bird having shining feathers continues with its song, but the obstacle of the palm still is there in the intervening space between understanding and the limit of the mind. The external situation, such as the blowing of the wind and the shining feathers of the birds, continues as they are.
  • Major Themes in “Of Mere Being”: Limits of human knowledge and mind, understanding of nature, and birth and rebirth of life and environment are major themes of the poem. The poem has metaphorically presented the limit of the human mind as if it is a bronze decoration that rises up when a person reaches the limit of his thinking. It is akin to the song of a gold-feathered bird which is the human mind, and it fails to understand the existence of life. This also means that sometimes man’s mind is unable to grasp the happenings of nature. Yet, the lifecycle and environment continue as it is without giving any inkling about their nature to the human mind.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Of Mere Being

Wallace Stevens used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary devices are analyzed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “That makes us happy or unhappy” and the sound of /o/ in “Without human feeling, a foreign song.”
  2. Alliteration: It means to use initial consonant sounds in two or more consecutive words. The poem shows the use of alliteration, such as the sound of /f/ in “fire-fangled feathers” and then /d/ in “dangle down.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /f/ and /g/ in “Without human feeling, a foreign song” and the sound of /h/ and /p/ in “That makes us happy or unhappy.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Wallace Stevens used imagery in this poem, such as “Sings in the palm, without human meaning”, “You know then that it is not the reason” and “The palm stands on the edge of space.”
  5. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet used the metaphor of the bird for the human mind and its limit.
  6. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols, such as mind, thought, meaning, and feeling, to show the limits of human knowledge.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Of Mere Being

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows good use of formal, poetic, and esoteric diction.
  2. Free Rhyme: It means to write poetry without rhyme scheme and metrical pattern. This is a free verse poem by Wallace Stevens.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas, with each comprising three verses.
  4. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a metaphysical, cryptic, and meaningful tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when happiness does not have any reason behind it.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.