The Westwardness Of Everything
The title of this website is lifted directly from the two-part poem Our Stars Come From Ireland, written by Wallace Stevens. The second portion of his poem is entitled The Westwardness Of Everything, and, as it is rather obscure, it is not available online and thus I shall type it now:
The Westwardness of Everything
These are the ashes of fiery weather,
Of nights full of the green stars from Ireland,
Wet out to sea, and luminously wet,
Like beautiful and abandoned refugees.
The whole habit of the mind is changed by them,
These Gaeled and fitful-fangled darknesses
Made suddenly luminous, themselves a change,
An east in their compelling westwardness,
Themselves an issue as at an end, as if
There was an end at which in a final change,
When the whole habit of the mind was changed,
The ocean breathed out morning in one breath.
I picture Stevens walking along the Eastern seaboard in a suit, perhaps with a large overcoat, appearing as mundane as the insurance he sold during the day. He is looking out over the Atlantic, to where Ireland floats beyond the horizon, and watching the stars rise above the water. "Like beautiful and abandoned refugees," he writes, as they come reflected upon the sea. There is an achieved freedom in the stars, refugees of light finding a home in our sky. Is there not a sense of freedom in moving westward as well?
I met a bartender today who arrived in Portland two weeks ago by way of Reno. She told me that as a child her parents moved her from Connecticut to Reno, from seasons to sand. Her journey westward is physical and historic, marked by birthdays in different cities with different skylines. But there are other journeys westward as well. The move west is a natural move as it occurs with the passing of the sun. It is also a potential denial of night as we follow the day, remaining in light. Much like my bartender, in Stevens' stars there is "an east in their compelling westwardness." In truth, there is no movement west without a movement east, a coming and a going. The stars bring with them the inkling of their origin, much like the clouds or the sea. Stevens often probed dualisms throughout his work, such as in Connoisseur of Chaos when he writes:
A. A violent order is a disorder; and
B. A great disorder is an order. These
Two things are one.
When Stevens writes to the poet Thomas MacGreevy, he explains the subject of the title poem as "the westwardness of things." He then proceeds to state bluntly: "The poem does little more than make the point but the point is there to be made." Making the point is an ordering of disorder. And, as the point is then subject to interpretation and analysis, further disordering is always possible. In the end, it is the change that matters. The ashes in the sea, the luminous darkenesses, these seeming contradictions narrate the change for Stevens, final or otherwise.
Westwardness, then, is not so much a quality of things but a potentiality of things through time. A pointing, perhaps, as though direction is not taken by the finger extended, but the potential for movement is actualized in the act. This potentiality inevitably points us to the ocean, as mass upon which "the whole habit of the mind" is indeed changed. The ocean is a violent order, a great disorder, and the unification of the two. The stars are likewise. These mammoth phenomenon anchor our everyday life and bring with them direction, orientation, and space. From this disorder and order, all human thoughts are pilgrims.