Basilewsky makes two brief appearances in the fourth part of the fourth canto (titled "A Duck for Dinner") in Stevens' long poem "Owl's Clover:
Then Basilewsky in the band-stand played/ "Concerto for Airplane and Pianoforte,"/ The newest Soviet reclame. Profound abortion, fit for the enhanting of Basilisks....
The man in the band-stand could be orator,/ Some pebble-chewer practiced in Tyrian speech,/ An apparition, twanging instruments within us hitherto unknown, he that/ Confounds all opposites and spins a sphere/ Created, like a bubble, of bright sheens,/ With a tendency to bulge as it floats away./Basilewsky's bulged before it floated, turned/ Caramel and would not, could not float....
Who is Basilewsky?Edit
Helen Vendler lists Basilewsky as one of a handful of "satiric actors" who pop up throughout "Owl's Clover." More specifically, Basilewsky is Stevens' portrait of the "musician manque" produced by the pedagogocical aesthetics of Soviet Socialist Realism: he is the failed artist whose compositions, dictated by the State and directed at the masses, amount to little more than propaganda.
What is Basilewsky Doing in this Poem?Edit
This is a complex issue. When Basilewsky first appears in this section, he acts largely as a straw man for Stevens' critique of Socialist Realism , which Stevens presumably rejects for its failure to acknowledge the primacy of the individual--"As the man the state, not as the state the man (iv.12)--as well, perhaps for its endless lauding of industrialization, which one might say makes a fetish of mechanization. The title of Basilesky's ill-fated concerto--Concerto for Airplane and Pianoforte--is a prime example, attempting as it does to elevate the noise of the jet engine to the status of music. Of course, the attempt is doomed: a "profound abortion" (IV.4.3-4).
Later, however, Stevens condemnation becomes less political and more philosophical. Basilewsky is compared, not kindly, with the figure of an "orator," an unnamed person Stevens seems to wish might take Basilewsky's place on the band-stand (iv.16). The orator, as he is described, is essentially Stevens ideal poet, someone capable of powerful speech which might "[twang] instruments within us hitherto unknown" (iv.17), and in so doing enflame the imagination in such a way as to transform the world and resolve its contradicitions. As Stevens puts it, the orator is "he who confounds all opposites and spins a sphere, created, like a bubble, of bright sheens, with a tendency to bulge as it floats away" (iv.20-1). In this light, Basilewsky's attempt to combine two such opposites as the airplane and the piano is at least laudable, perhaps even heroic; however, his creation is somehow tragically inverted--it bulges before it floats--and so never gains the uplifting transformative power it aspires to (iv.22-3).
The strain of sympathy that emerges for Basilewsky here is important. As the Poetry Foundations bio of Stevens reveals "Owl's Clover" was cut and reassembled in part from the text of Steven's failed 1936 book of the same name. One can't help but imagine that Basilewsky's failure in the poem is as much an acknowledgement of, and perhaps a rebuke to, Stevens' own private struggle to articulate a poetics in and as a philosophy of being.