Stovepipe hat

The doctor of Geneva is a character in the Wallace Stevens poem of the same name.  He represents reason bound by old conventions "plumb[ing] The multifarious heavens." Rather than living in the now and enjoying the earthly sights, his mind "had never been assailed by such long-rolling opulent cataracts" such as the glorious "cataracts" or swells of the ocean.  He is so full of the old traditions, the new cannot enter.  Racine and Bossuet were proponents of the divine right of kings and as such are representatives of outmoded schools of thought.  The doctor would not bother with with "long-rolling opulent cataracts" unless Racine and Bossuet approved of them first.

The doctor of Geneva is a "lacustrine man."  Geneva is in a country of land locked lakes.  The doctor is similar to the stagnant waters of his homeland - wrapped up in the old.

"Stevens is self-consciously contributing experiments towards a burgeoning American art that may cause traditionalists to use their handkerchiefs and sigh. Vendler sees this as one of Stevens's major themes."

Text of PoemEdit

The doctor of Geneva stamped the sand

That lay impounding the Pacific swell,

Patted his stove-pipe hat and tugged his shawl.

Lacustrine man had never been assailed

By such long-rolling opulent cataracts,

Unless Racine or Bossuet held the like.

He did not quail.  A man so used to plumb

The multifarious heavens felt no awe

Before these visible, voluble delugings,

Which yet found means to set his simmering mind

Spinning and hissing with oracular

Notations of the wild, the ruinous waste,

Until the steeples of his city clanked and sprang

In an unburgherly apocalype.

The doctor used his handkerchief and sighed.


  • Buttel, Robert. Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium. 1967: Princeton University Press.
  • Stevens, Holly. Letters of Wallace Stevens. 1966: University of California Press.
  • Stevens, Wallace. "The Doctor of Geneva." Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Frank  Kermode and Joan Richardson. New York: Library of America, 1997.
  • Vendler, Helen. On Extended Wings. 1969: Harvard University Press.