Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village.

This is old song
That will not declare itself . . .

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a village.

That will not declare itself
Yet is certain as meaning . . .

The boots of the men clump
On the boards of the bridge.
The first white wall of the village
Rises through fruit-trees.
Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes.

The first white wall of the village…
The fruit-trees…

Analysis, meaning and summary of Wallace Stevens's poem Metaphors Of A Magnifico


  1. Bart says:

    The version of the poem shown here differs in two ways from the standard version.
    First, the spacing of the lines is different from that of Stevens.
    Second, some of Stevens’ punctuation is missing.
    The difference matter in a close reading of the poem.

  2. Jeffrey L Tarlow says:

    Here is my very humble interpretation of this work:
    1) It is undoubtedly militaristic. These are men not crossing a bridge for a love-in.
    2) Each man (of the twenty) has his own consciousness/reality of the event about to take place.
    It is as if twenty separate realities are taking place (“Twenty men crossing twenty bridges, into twenty villages”).
    3) This clearly will not do for a military excursion (attack). The group must somehow meld into a single
    entity (“Or one man crossing a single bridge into a village”). But this fusion of multiple streams of consciousness is not easy to achieve (3rd stanza), as again we see twenty men crossing one bridge as twenty men crossing a bridge.
    4) The village is perhaps peace-loving (or at least ill prepared): a barricade/fortress doesn’t have a white wall rising through fruit trees.
    5) The 5th stanza is from the viewpoint of someone in the village, hearing the impending attack. Perhaps behind the white wall thinking of his
    6) This individual might have been wounded by the attackers, and his previous thoughts about the white wall return in a final (pre- loss of consciousness)
    7) The twenty (or one) men/(man) bridge/village distinctions are not real, but exist in the mind and perceptions of the men involved. As such, this cannot be objectively explained or demonstrated. It’s and “old song” meaning this phenomenon is a old as the existence of the conscious mind. But it surely exists, as much as objective reality (the clumping of boots on the boards of the bridge–what an evocative description).
    This is a masterful poem, open to multiple interpretations, as are so many of Stevens’ brilliant poems.

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