Don Joost—a reflection of Cervantes's character Don Quixote—is the speaker in the poem, "From the Misery of Don Joost."
A Jovial Jousting JoostEdit
Don Joost is an exceptionally enigmatic figure, even for an enigmatic poet like Stevens. In a 1944 letter to Hi Simons, Stevens cross-references Don Joost with Don Quixote. Stevens has this to say:
Don Joost is a jovial Don Quixote. He is an arbitrary figure. (Letters 464)
The Joost of the poem, however, does not seem to be a jovial figure, as Eleanor Cook notes. She likens Don Joosts “combat with the sun”—perhaps a reference to the artist’s struggle with his own creativity—to Don Quixote’s infamous joust against the windmills, which he has mistaken for giants. Cook cites the following passage from Don Quixote:
It seems clear to me...that thou [Sancho Panza] art not well-versed in the matter of adventures: these are giants; and if thou art afraid, move aside and start to pray whilst I enter with them in fierce and unequal combat. (qtd. in 51)
Although Cook seems merely to guess that Stevens had this particular passage in mind, we may nonetheless note that “Joost” may be Stevens’s creative pronunciation of the word “joust.”
After Joost’s “joust” with the sun, after he has acknowledged his old age, his “misery” consists in contemplating his formerly active life. The line “the powerful seasons. . . were themselves the genii / Of their own ends” seems to suggest that life, while one is engaged in it, is its own justification; we only retroactively seek justifications for life's activities after upon life's close.
The poem’s final two stanzas take on the tone of a lament (thus contradicting Stevens’s characterization of Joost as “jovial”). Like Joost’s body, his self—i.e., “the very self of the storm”—is an “old animal.” He reflects that this imminent end of the self’s struggle with the imagination, the “combat with the sun,” is even worse that the imminent end of the body.
Cook, Eleanor. A Reader’s Guide to Wallace Stevens. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007. Web. 26 Feb 2014.