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from ‘Six Significant Landscapes’, by Wallace Stevens


Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses --
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon --
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

 For much of his life, Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) worked as a businessman and lawyer, writing poems by night. His first full collection, Harmonium, wasn’t published until he was 38 years old, proving that it’s never too late to try something new! 

 This month’s poem is the final section of ‘Six Significant Landscapes’. The scene Stevens describes might not at first appear like a landscape, because it takes place inside, ‘Looking at the floor, | Looking at the ceiling.’ But it is really about mindscapes, the shapes of our thoughts, and how we can make them fresher and more interesting. Rationalists, in the poem’s view, are confined in ‘square hats’ and ‘right-angled triangles’ and this prevents meaningful development. 

 Instead, we’re asked to move and think outside of the box; consider, instead, ‘Cones, waving lines, ellipses’; step into the night where we find ‘the ellipse of the half-moon’ smiling overhead. 

Changing your environment, your habits and habitats of thinking, can give you a brand new outlook—and, Sombrero donned, a new look, too.

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