Thursday, November 01, 2007

when Harold met Wally

Harold Bloom was "madly in love" with the poems of Wallace Stevens from the time he was an undergraduate at Cornell University. He traveled from Ithaca to New Haven in 1949 and found his way somehow into the reading Stevens was giving that night for the members of a New Haven (not Yale-affiliated) humanities group. That night Stevens would read a short version of what became "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven." Norman Holmes Pearson, the legendary Yale English professor (and conduit between Yale and the OSS/CIA), saw the lonely-looking young Bloom and took him under wing, at least long enough to encourage the young man to approach the great poet, which Bloom did.

I don't how many times Bloom has told the story of his one encounter with the beloved poet, but a few years ago it was recorded as Bloom taught an undergraduate class at Yale, devoting all hour and twenty minutes of his lecture to a discussion of one poem, "The Poems of Our Climate" of 1938. Today, as I did household chores, brought in the houseplants from the back deck, made my lunch, etc., I listened to the entire lecture, hilariously and brilliantly digressive (at several points Bloom admits to being insane and that the main issuance of his madness is an addiction to never approaching the finality of any point). I then edited the recording and here is the 5-minute segment in which Bloom tells the story of meeting Stevens in 1949.

The title of Bloom's book about Stevens is indeed taken from the poem he taught the day the Yale podcast people made their recording: "The Poems of Our Climate." In that book, not surprisingly, he discusses "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," and here are a few pages.