Wallace Stevens Essay, Commas, Connecticut, Rugged Independence and Good Will to All

This passage from a Wallace Stevens essay moved me, in part because I have been in the Connecticut visiting my mom, family and the land of my origin. It also strikes me that all of those writing instructors that I have had, who kept trying to remove almost every comma from my writing, were wrong. Notice how lovely the abundant use of commas make this piece, and how hard it would be to create as lovely an essay if it was attempted without them.

“I was not myself born in the state. There is nothing that gives the feel of Connecticut, like coming home to it. . .

“One could say in a few words that Connecticut is an industrial and business center. That would leave out the saltwater of Noank and Stonington, the hills in which the various Cornwalls are situated, the sense of being on high land, of being on a rich plateau, at Pomfret, the rare rich fields over East, the heights and depths of our Western and part of our Northern borders, the special river countries of the Housatonic and the Thames. Yet to return to these places would not be quite what I had in mind when I spoke of the coming home that gives one the feel of Connecticut. What I have in mind is something deeper that nothing can ever change or remove. It is a question of coming home to our American self in the sort of place in which it was formed. Going back to Connecticut is a return to an origin. And, as it happens, it is an origin that many all over the world, both those who have been a part of us, and those who have not, share in common: an origin of hardihood, good faith, and good will.”


Comments | 5

  • Commas and Connecticut

    I, too, struggle with commas. In fact, I was thinking just yesterday that I need to return to Strunk and White and clarify those rules for myself one more time. The trouble is, I think I’m trying to follow two sets of rules at once.

    Thinking about Connecticut evokes images of the highway for me because, as one who’s never lived there, I’m always just passing through on my way to somewhere else. In the last few years since we’ve been taking 84 all the way instead of using the Merritt Parkway, I’ve developed a certain fondness for the western part of the state which seems eerily underpopulated compared to the coast. Danbury especially draws me, partly because it was the home town of Charles Ives, and also for its tendency to be completely empty whenever we venture in, as though the old buildings and homes endure but the people are all gone.

    Thanks for the literary interlude, Rolf.

    • Commas and Comas

      Thanks Lise,

      While I also struggle with commas, what is exciting to me is that Wallace Stevens uses many commas, and is not struggling at all.

      There is a fashion to remove all “unnecessary” commas, but what is necessary is debatable. Getting rid of as many as possible is not merely following some agreed upon rules, it is a modern fashion in editing.

      Wallace Stevens, among other masters, among other great works, would be ruined if one followed the modern fashion of editing. That’s my take.

  • thanks for this

    Is there a more under-read great poet than Wallace Stevens? As for commas, if you can hear what you are writing, you know where the commas ought to go, & to hell with arbitrary rules. Not that I ever bothered learning them – no need. Some of the rules we were taught are not only arbitrary, but wrong as well. Take the “no split infinitive” rule. Some idiot 19th century grammarian came up with that one, apparently because he assumed that “to” is part of the infinitive. It isn’t, & there is no way to “split an infinitive”. There are some rules for every language, but living languages are flexible, changing all the time. A good ear is far more useful than any rulebook.

    For the hot weather, here is a little something from another under-read poet, Lorine Niedecker:

    Swept snow, Li Po,
    by dawn’s 40-watt moon
    to the road trhat hies to office
    away from home.

    Tended my brown little stove
    as one would a cow – she gives heat.
    Spring – marsh frog-clatter peace
    breaks out.

  • Lorine

    A favorite for many years. Bob Arnold, in Guilford, is now Lorine’s literary executor, by the way.

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