The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Wallace Stevens's poem Of Modern Poetry


  1. GFunk says:

    I really like that comment tying Whitman to Stevens, as I never really thought of it before. Yes both are creating a stage and embracing the reader in a present-tense poetry, albeit maybe on different stages with different acting methods. Whitman reaches out in Song of Myself, and Stevens reaches out in many poems, including here, but other times more obliquely, as in my favorite, “The Snow Man.” Yes the “act of finding” seems more important than “to find” in this poem. The poem must be “wholly / containing the mind,” and this itself might be what suffices: that sense of transport, communication, knowledge, and rapture.

  2. Jukka Kemppinen says:

    “what will suffice…” To me this is one of the profound things of our poetry. However, Johann Sebastian Bach possibly had the same idea in his mind, when he said: “Never use two violins when one will suffice.”

  3. Magda says:

    What strikes me in that poem is the idea mentioned by Alan- ‘finding what will suffice’.-To me it means that writing poetry is striving towards perfection, one has to try many options before choosing the ultimate one. Therefore I would disagree here with Alan on the epiphany motif. Stevens writes that a poem must be an ‘act of the mind’ and that it must be heard in the ‘ear of the mind’. To me it suggests a careful precision of the form and content, gradual evolving of an idea rather than a sudden feat. Thus I don’t suppose it is emotion that Stevens believes to be the major tool, mode of wiriting, but I think that he validates it as a basis, fundament and inspiration, however, contolled by a modern poet’s skill.

  4. Alan Glazen says:

    Having just studied Whitman, I am totally taken by Stevens, because he has written a piece which completely changes what it means to read and write poetry. He honors the inividual mind, and links the poet and the reader as comrades, celebrating the process of searching for meaning, moreso than the process of delivering answers. He stresses “the act of finding….what will suffice….it has to find what will suffice…it must be the finding of satisfaction”. I totally love the idea of “sudden rightnesses”, the ephiphany which occurs when one becomes one with the poet. I’m very new at interpreting poetry, but this piece really has set me on an exciting path.

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