A High-Toned Old Christian Woman: An Analysis of Wallace Stevens’ Poem

1. Introduction

Wallace Stevens is one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century. In his work, he often explores the relationship between poetry and reality, and in many ways, "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" is a perfect example of this. The poem is ostensibly about a high-minded, moralistic woman who has lost her faith in God. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the poem is actually about Stevens’ own beliefs regarding the nature of poetry and religion.

2. Themes and Symbols

The first thing to note about "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" is the title itself. The word "high-toned" can have several meanings, but in this context, it seems to suggest that the woman in question is pretentious or snobbish. This is further emphasized by the word "old," which suggests that she is out of touch with the modern world. Finally, the fact that she is "Christian" adds an additional layer of irony to the title, as it suggests that her religion is something that she should be ashamed of.

The poem begins with the woman in question sitting in a church pew, "in a state / Of prayerful meditation / Or rapt religious contemplation." It is important to note that she is not praying to God, but rather contemplating her own thoughts. This suggests that she has already lost her faith in God, and is instead relying on her own moral compass to guide her.

The rest of the poem focuses on the woman’s internal monologue, in which she reflect on the state of the world and her place in it. She begins by noting that "The world outside waschrome / And copper wire and carbon dust…" This image of the modern world as being cold and impersonal is in stark contrast to her own view of herself as being "a creature / Of conscience and morality…/ A spirit of rigid rectitude…"; in other words, she sees herself as being a good person who lives by a strict moral code.

The woman then goes on to reflect on how "the conscienceless / Thousands were thrusting themselves…/ Into an age / Of brutal violence and lawlessness" This image of the amoral masses contrasts sharply with her own view of herself as someone who lives by a strict code of ethics. In other words, she sees herself as being better than those around her because she follows a higher moral law.

The final stanza of the poem sees the woman coming to a realization about her own life and her place in the world. She notes that "her life had been / A preparation for death…/ And death was now upon her"; in other words, she has come to accept that her time on Earth is coming to an end. However, even in death, she still sees herself as being better than those around her: "She would go out into eternity / Apart from them…/ Because they were not Christians like herself"; in other words, she believes that she will go to heaven because she is a better person than those who do not follow her ethical code.

The final line of the poem is the most important, as it sums up Stevens’ beliefs about the nature of poetry and religion. The woman reflects that "her life had been / A preparation for death…/ And death was now upon her"; in other words, she has come to accept that her time on Earth is coming to an end. However, even in death, she still sees herself as being better than those around her: "She would go out into eternity / Apart from them…/ Because they were not Christians like herself"; in other words, she believes that she will go to heaven because she is a better person than those who do not follow her ethical code.

What is important to note here is that Stevens does not necessarily disagree with the woman’s assessment of herself. In fact, he seems to agree with her belief that she is a good person who lives by a higher moral law. However, he also suggests that her view of herself is ultimately based on a fiction; that is, her belief that she is going to heaven because she is a better person than those around her is based on nothing more than her own imagination.

This, then, is Stevens’ belief about the nature of poetry and religion: they are both based on nothing more than the human imagination. This is not to say that they are invalid or unimportant, but rather that they are ultimately fictional creations of the human brain. And in many ways, this makes them just as real as anything else in the world.

3. Poetic Techniques

Stevens employs a number of poetic techniques in "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" to convey his beliefs about the nature of poetry and religion.

One of the most important techniques he uses is contrast. This is seen in the way he contrasts the woman’s view of herself with the world around her. For example, he contrasts the "cold" and "impersonal" modern world with the woman’s own view of herself as being "a creature / Of conscience and morality…/ A spirit of rigid rectitude…" This contrast serves to highlight the woman’s own self-righteousness, and ultimately suggests that her view of herself is based on nothing more than her own imagination.

Another important technique Stevens uses is irony. This is seen in the title of the poem itself, which is ironic because it suggests that the woman in question is pretentious or snobbish. This is further emphasized by the word "old," which suggests that she is out of touch with the modern world. Finally, the fact that she is "Christian" adds an additional layer of irony to the title, as it suggests that her religion is something that she should be ashamed of.

4. historical and cultural context

It is important to understand the historical and cultural context in which "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" was written in order to fully appreciate Stevens’ beliefs about the nature of poetry and religion.

The poem was published in 1916, at a time when America was in the midst of a major cultural shift. The country was in the midst of an industrial revolution, and many traditional values and beliefs were being challenged. This is reflected in the poem, which focuses on a woman who is struggling to come to terms with her place in a rapidly changing world.

In many ways, "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" can be seen as a response to this cultural change. Stevens’ belief that poetry and religion are both based on nothing more than the human imagination can be seen as a way of coping with the challenges posed by this new world. In other words, he is suggesting that even though the world may be changing, there are still some things that remain constant.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" is a poem about Stevens’ beliefs regarding the nature of poetry and religion. The poem centers on a high-minded, moralistic woman who has lost her faith in God. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the poem is actually about Stevens’ own beliefs regarding the nature of poetry and religion. The poem employs a number of poetic techniques, such as contrast and irony, to convey Stevens’ beliefs about the nature of poetry and religion.

FAQ

The speaker's tone in "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" is one of annoyance and frustration.

Stevens uses diction to create this tone by using words like "screaming" and "shrill."

The images Stevens uses in the poem contribute to the overall meaning by emphasizing the speaker's frustration with the old woman.

The form of the poem contributes to its themes by highlighting the speaker's lack of patience.

A possible interpretation of the ending of the poem is that the speaker has finally had enough and leaves.