Treasure Island

Wallace Stevens

(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

Domination Of Black


At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the fallen leaves,
Repeating themselves,
Turned in the room,
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks
Came striding.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind.
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
Down to the ground.
I heard them cry -- the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twilight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails of the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?

Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Gary Schultz (11/2/2013 9:22:00 AM)

    Eerily brilliant, an intermingling, concatenating swirl of images, the being of one thing merging with another, the leaves, the fire, the wind, the tails of the peacocks and the dark hemlocks like some portent of evil, the onset of night, the onset of the dark and his fear - was that also the peacocks fear, were the peacocks crying as part of the hemlocks or against the hemlocks, in fear of the night. One can imagine him sitting in a fire lit room at dusk with the wind and the autumn leaves and the peacocks and the night and the hemlocks, a nature poem to be sure, I get an inkling of what Gray sees in him. A bit scary.
    I like this poem, the concatenating interfusing imagery is splendid, the fire and it's flames, the leaves and the bushes, the tails of the peacocks, all turning in the wind, all blending together sharing essential elements of their being with each other, the loudness of the peacocks reflected by the loudness of the fire, the plaintive mournful cry of the peacocks reflecting his fear of the darkness his fear of the striding hemlocks of the onset of night of the coming of death, everything caught up together in the wind, even the planets themselves and him wondering whether the peacocks too feel some of his fright. Lovely stuff. (Report) Reply

  • Deniz Atay (4/19/2012 9:06:00 AM)

    I really don't know why but this left a silly smile on my face, and a crying feeling in my heart - it's so great to love (live) the poetry.. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (12/26/2006 6:53:00 PM)

    A powerful cluster of images. Stevens is describing an extremely difficult moment; perhaps a confrontation with depression or anxiety or both. He finishes the first sentence—a curious combination of the matter-of-fact and the confused—and he seems to want to go back and proof it for accuracy. He answers his own doubts about that sentence with a “Yes, but.” And he says the hemlocks were striding, and he remembered the cry of the peacocks. From there the mood goes into an uncontrolled downward spiral. He seems to panic.

    Peacocks make a very distinctive and plaintive sound, much like a woman or a child crying “help” in the distance. At night it would be exactly the opposite of comforting.

    The poet-narrator says their cry becomes “loud as the hemlocks, ” and by the time we reach the last few lines, the sentence “I felt afraid” seems grossly understated. The terror is palpable. And once again, the poet-narrator remembers the cry of the peacocks. He is inconsolable.

    We are never certain of what specifically the narrator fears, but it seems to be a vague and pervasive feeling of impending doom. It is a fear stirred by the commonplace (leaves in the wind, the reflection of firelight on the walls) , intensified with a glimpse into the infinite (when the poet-narrator sees “how the planets gathered/ Like the leaves themselves”) and confirmed when the poet-narrator “saw how the night came…striding.” There is no escape, he is trapped. (Report) Reply

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