"The Imperfect is Our Paradise" Wallace Stevens sign

We were talking about imperfection, wabi sabi, and how messy the creative process is when, out of the blue, David Saltman said “The imperfect is our paradise.” He looked surprised and then said “Wallace Stevens.” He had called up from memory the best line of a famous Wallace Stevens’ poem called The Poems of Our Climate.

We looked it up. It was a little difficult at first, until we read it out loud. O-h-h-h! It became clear as a bell.

So we looked for an audio file to post here, so you could listen to this incredible poem that is about where we humans really live. We think it is a lovely way to start the day (poems often are, as we discovered a while back, and wrote about.) We couldn’t find a recording of it anywhere. So you’ll have to read it out loud yourself, or just stick with that one true and dazzling line, above.

Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Note of Amazement: Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance company executive for forty years, writing poetry on the side. He became one of America’s greatest poets.


Related posts: ‘what’s not wrong?’ and other ways to start your day
pablo neruda’s poetic houses (+ his ‘ode to the present’)
louis c.k on being broke (with su tung-p’o)
the magic of guerilla poetry (become a poetry bomber)
poems as gifts: don wentworth’s ‘past all traps’
wabi sabi, the perfection of imperfection

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10 replies on “‘the imperfect is our paradise’ (wallace stevens)

  1. Wonderful poem, I will be re-reading it often.

  2. Thank you. Wallace Stevens has helped me through some very trying times. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” continues to grant me new insights after more than 20 years of frequent revisits.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. I am working on a book this year and using poetry to accompany paintings. A challenging and awesome experience. I am waking up to words as an art form more than ever before, it is defining me everyday.

  4. As I close up my fairly perfect mother’s life after her fairly perfect life, the relief I feel with this poem will take me through sorting through drawers.

  5. Stevens is one of my most favorite poets. I am particularly partial to the line “complacencies of the peignoir” in the poem “Sunday Morning,” another one of my favorites —

  6. Imperfect is part of the whole, just as perfect is. and both seem to get different definitions depending on the perspective. to me a bit of both makes it round, wholesome . The seemingly imperfect has something to hold on to, experience, history; something we can find ourselves in . What seems perfect is often either before the story -or after a lot of work ,failure and success.
    The path is interesting: How did you get there? Imperfection has a story to tell.

    And i am babbling, again : )

  7. Not babbling. Bringing much to the conversation. Thank you. Don’t stop.

  8. This poem is so nice. Delight-ful.

  9. As Leonard Cohen sings (and as I hold onto tightly): Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

  10. Thanks for sharing these of-the-now beautiful words! These days, IL is my daily poem, actually.

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