‘The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm’ by Wallace Stevens is a sixteen line poem that is separated into sets of two lines, or couplets. Although there is no specific rhyme scheme, there is a sense of repetition in the way that Stevens reuses words. A reader should take note of the way that “calm” appears in the first line then again at the end of the fourth. The same can be said for “be” which is at the end of the seventh line and the tenth. This technique is repeated with the words “itself” in the fourteenth and fifteenth lines.
Additionally, the word “calm” appears a total of six times in the poem while the words “book,” “reader” and “perfection” are also repeated. These are the most important words in the text. They help to craft the images which are the listener’s only point of access to the ephemeral world Stevens has created. Anaphora, or the reuse of starting words, is also prominent. “The” begins nine of the sixteen lines.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a scene in which a reader is leaning over a book on a calm summer night. This person is seeking something from the text, a kind of perfect truth they have not been able to find elsewhere.
The search for truth, as the speaker describes, is confined to moments of quiet. This means that for the scene to occur and truth to be interpreted, it must already be calm. There cannot be any disturbance to the process or any other sights or sounds to focus on. By the end of the poem the setting, “reader” and object have become so close, they become the truth the “reader” was seeking in the first place.
You can read the full poem here and more poems by Wallace Stevens here.
Analysis of The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm
The house was quiet and the world was calm.(…)
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
In the first set of lines, the speaker begins by utilizing the line that came to be used as the title of the poem. He gives a very basic, but all-encompassing, view of on specific house. Without any additional information, one is able to picture the “quiet” environment within the house and outside, in the larger “world.” It seems to be a scene of perfect peace. It is encompassing the house, and the single person in the narrative, a “reader.”
This person within the house is reading on a summer night and consuming their book as it is consuming them. This strange and metaphorical line speaks to the general feeling of the situation more than something physical. The “reader” and their book have merged into one peaceful, meditative state. The merging of environment, object, and person goes further. Stevens suggests that the “summer night” is as much a part of the scene as the “reader” is. In fact, they have merged so much that the,
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The calmness of the night is embodied in the book and the reader has become them both. These images help to cast a feeling of unification over the scene and further emphasize the peaceful nature of the night. This section concludes with a reiteration of the title line.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,(…)The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
In the next section, the images become even more ephemeral. It is impossible to know exactly what the “words” spoken without a book are. The phrase presents the listener with an interesting image though. It was Stevens’ goal to evoke a specific set of feelings in his reader. One should read these lines and feel a coming together of human consciousness. It collides with the moment in which one is involved entirely with another activity, in this case reading. The only separation that still exists is physical. The book seems to be able to look up and see the
Reader leaned above the page.
Otherwise, the two have come together perfectly, or so the “reader” would like the listener to think. The speaker informs the listener that the “reader” was seeking out a connection with the book. One that is “true” and demonstrated through the “perfection” of the “summer night.” These lines suggest that maybe this connection or discovery of truth has yet to happen. The thought that starts in this section continues into the next.
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.(…)The access of perfection to the page.
The imagery becomes vaguer as the speaker attempts to show the spiritual need of the “reader” to find truth. That need is demonstrated through the “perfection” of a summer night. It is within these two coinciding perfections, the book and the night, that one is drawn in deeper to their need. In order for this person to find what they are seeking, the “house” must be “quiet.”
In the next two lines, the speaker makes clear that the quietness,
[…] was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
It was through the “quiet,” free of the mundanity of normal life, that the reader taps into the “perfection “ of the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,(…)Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
In the last four lines, the speaker reiterates the fact that “truth” has to be found in a “calm world.” The “calm” is the access point the “reader,” or any seeker needs. Due to the uninterrupted, singleminded nature of the world, “no other meaning” is able to exist.
The circle of peace, perfection, and truth, as seen through the summer night and the book, finishes in the last line. Here the reader states that the real truth is the “reader leaning late and reading there.” The seeking of truth, knowledge, and peace, is in itself a “truth,” and perhaps the only one the “reader” featured in this piece, or the reader of the poem, will ever find.