The subject of this article is the earth’s “tragic drone” and its incommunicability in the poetry of Wallace Stevens, who conceives of the earth as an “incommunicable mass,” from which the human “demands his speech.” Challenging the views of critics who have written about the relationship between nature’s sounds and human language in Stevens’ poetry, this article reconsiders the role of sound in Stevens’ poetry and the development of his concept of the earth’s tragic drone and its incommunicability. Walter Benjamin’s text on language in “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man” serves as an ideal hermeneutic approach to Stevens’ poetry in the sense that they are both concerned with mute nature and its mourning for speechlessness.
In Stevens, nature’s mournful sounds were at first “meaningless” to us humans because they were “not ours.” As it lacks human speech, the earth communicates its “tragic drone” that is “so much less than speech” “[o]n the level of that which is not yet knowledge.” To comprehend these mournful sounds, man thus needs to “demand his speech” from the earth. In the hearing of the necessary angel of earth, they become “half-meanings” and begin to take the form of human language. The poeticized sounds in Stevens’ poetry concerning the earth’s tragic drone and its incommunicability become not only “[a] new knowledge of reality,” but also a meaningful, well-intended revelation that helps the reader “see the earth again” and reconsider his place on earth. As the earth perishes, no man can be. Stevens demonstrates his personal care for “our perishing earth” and us humans because it is the earth upon which man dwells.
KEYWORDS: Wallace Stevens, American poetry, mute nature, the earth’s tragic drone, the incommunicable mass, the necessary angel of earth