Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens: Summary, Analysis, and Theme

American poet Wallace Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar is a poem that tells the story of a jar that is placed in the wilderness. In literary writings, an anecdote refers to an unelaborated story that narrates a single incident. The given poem has three stanzas, each consisting of four lines.

Without further ado, let’s begin dissecting Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar and find out its meaning, themes. Moreover, let’s make an analysis of each stanza separately, thereby finding connections among them.

Wallace Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,   
And round it was, upon a hill.   
It made the slovenly wilderness   
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.   
The jar was round upon the ground   
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion everywhere.   
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,   
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar: Summary

Wallace Steven’s poem Anecdote of the Jar is a very succinct story that is in the form of a poem. The speaker initially placed a jar upon a hill in Tennessee. There used to be haphazard, or let’s say unorganized wilderness below the hill. Due to the jar, the slovenly wilderness surrounded the hill. It seems the jar was massive in size.

When the wilderness rose up to the jar and sprawled around it, it was no longer wild. The jar was where the persona of the poem had placed, on the ground while the bushes kept growing. The wilderness grew such exponentially out of which formed a port in the air.

In the third stanza of Anecdote of the Jar, the persona adds that the wilderness took dominion everywhere i.e. it went reached everywhere. By then, the jar was already gray and bare at the same place where it was first kept. The persona, then, says that the jar was actually not productive as it was not able to give birth to any birds or bushes. He concludes with a finding that unlike the wilderness, the jar is both unproductive and it does not grow.

Wallace Stevens’ Poem Anecdote of Jar: Analysis

In his popular poem Anecdote of the Jar, Wallace Stevens makes an experiment with the importance of nature vs. the importance of art. Representing nature is the wilderness while the jar represents art. The persona of the poem wants to know whether art is above nature or vice versa.

The persona of Anecdote of the Jar begins his experimentation by placing a jar upon a hill in the Tennesseean wilderness. He says, the jar “made the slovenly wilderness/ Surround that hill.” It means, the jar gave proper shape to the wilderness and the including the hill. He finds the role of art in making nature beautiful and hence, thinks art is more important than nature.

Later in the second stanza, the persona reveals that now the wilderness has become such beautiful that he cannot even call it wild. He says: “The wilderness rose up to it,/ And sprawled around, no longer wild.” Even in the second stanza of Anecdote of the Jar, Stevens’ persona is convinced that art is superior because it has made the wilderness prepossessing. By staying on the ground, the jar has made a port out of the wilderness in the air. Well, he is still sticking to the same perspective that is in favor of art’s superiority.

The persona’s perspective, however, changes in the third stanza, only towards the end of Anecdote of the Jar though. He finds that the wilderness grew and “took dominion everywhere” i.e. occupied all space whereas the jar still remained the at the same place where he had placed in the first stanza. Instead of growing and giving birth to birds and bushes as the wilderness did, the jar went gray and bare itself. It is, in fact, a pathetic scene and the persona must be taken aback because he has to reverse his long existing perspective. Stevens ends the poem with a reason: “It did not give of bird or bush,/ Like nothing else in Tennessee.” This particular place of a Tennessee is a vast wilderness and everything is productive, except for the jar because it is an artificial object.

Anecdote of the Jar reaches the conclusion that art ends over time whereas nature keeps growing unless it is encroached by human beings. If we pull the jar off, we can still find the place, where it was seated, devoid of any plants or animals. Though the persona initially thought art was superior he comes to realize that art is short-lasting and unproductive whereas nature is immortal and productive.

Wallace Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar: Theme

As we have discussed Stevens’ Anecdote of the Jar in details above, it is easier to find the themes of the poem. Anecdote of the Jar carries the themes superiority, beauty, fertility, etc.

Wallace Stevens’ or at least the persona of Anecdote of the Jar is of the opinion that art represents beauty but it is not superior to nature. Moreover, art remains as long as human beings create them whereas nature remains as long as it is untouched by human beings. We should respect both wilderness and art because the former is fertile while the latter is beautiful. Nevertheless, nature is, in no way, an ugly entity.

Watch the performance of Anecdote of the Jar! 

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