Sri Lanka, once known more commonly as British Ceylon, was colonized by Britain from 1815 to 1948. The empire colonized the country to implement a plantation program to grow coffee, yet the coffee plants were destroyed by coffee rust. Subsequently, tea and rubber became the prosperous crops that made Ceylon a wealthy country. Unfortunately, British occupation of the country brought warfare between the indigenous Buddhist people and the British authorities who failed to protect the religious traditions. [1]     Wallace Stevens references the British colony several times throughout his poetry to present polarities of light/dark and cold/hot with Ceylon most significantly representing the darkness and the heat. Typically, colonized nations are represented in fiction in particular as the dark Other, such as in the classic tale of Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899), in which Marlow states that the heart of Africa is "one of the darkest places of the earth." Marlow's words reference Psalm 74:20, a biblical verse that became most significant in colonialist theological writing in the late nineteenth century when the American mission was a singular drive to bring Christianity and enlightenment to the darkest places of the earth. [2] Interestingly, Stevens writes in "Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas" (1942) that "one's belief / Resists each past apocalypse" and "rejects Ceylon. . . . / What / One believes is what matters" (vii, 6-7, 9-10). [3] Stevens also writes in "It Must be Abstract" (1947)  that "[t]he elephant / Breaches the darkness of Ceylon with blares " (v, 5-6). The reader can conclude that Stevens rejects Christianity as a means to enlightenment. The natural world and "[t]he poem [refresh] life so that we share, / For a moment, the first idea . . ." (iii, 1-2). [4]


1. British Ceylon

2. Conrad 5, 118. 

3. Stevens in Kermode and Richardson 232.

4. Stevens in Kermode and Richardson 332, 330.


British Ceylon

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1899. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Kermode, Frank, and Joan Richardson, eds. Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose. New York: Library of America, 1997. Print.

Stevens, Wallace. "Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas." Kermode and Richardson 227-34.

---. "It Must Be Abstract." Kermode and Richardson 330-52.