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Chartres cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

Cathedrals (i.e. elaborate churches) appear in Stevens a mere handful of times, though in some rather important poems. One finds cathedrals situated in the major poems "The Comedian as the Letter C," and "The Man with the Blue Guitar," as well as in the minor works "Of Hartford in a Purple Light" and "Five Grotesque Pieces," and in the nascent draft of "Comedian," "From the Journal of Crispin." For specific lines, see the Online Concordance.

What are Cathedrals?Edit

Strictly, cathedrals are major churches serving as the seat of a bishopric, and thus the center of a diocese, conference or episcopate. Cathedrals are generally rather imposing, architecturally speaking, and so the word cathedral has come to be applied colloquially to any large and impressive church, whether it qualifies as a site of religious authority or not ("Cathedral," Wikipedia).

What are Cathedrals Doing in Stevens?Edit

As one might expect, given Stevens' modernist antipathy (or at least ambivalence) toward religion, the cathedral is generally figured as a kind of palliative: an intellectual and emotional refuge from the terrifying recognition (which nevertheless must be faced) that no symblic or mythopoetic system can account for or contain absolute reality or ultimate truth, and that the natural universe is thus not beholden to human conceptions of order, ethics, philosophy, etc. As Richard Allen Blessing writes of the cathedral in which Crispin takes refuge from a thunderstorm in "Comedian as the Letter C": "the vigil in the cathedral is terrifying precisely because there is the suggestion that the supernatural does not exist....the thunder with its sound and fury brings the knowledge that the trifles of the opulent earth... all come to meaningless 'boomings' when confronted with this "quintessential fact" (Wallace Stevens' Whole Harmonium 21-2).