Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock - (2007)
for mezzo soprano and piano
for Annika Van Dyk
The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
People are not going
To dream of baboons and
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep
in his boots,
In red weather.
[ 4 pages, circa 4' 00" ]
Wallace Stevens was regarded as one of the most significant American poets
of the 20th century. Stevens largely ignored the literary world and he did
not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected
Poems (1954). In this work Stevens explored inside a profound
philosophical framework the dualism between concrete reality and the human
imagination. For most of his adult life, Stevens pursued contrasting careers
as a insurance executive and a poet.
Wallace Stevens was born in
Reading, Pennsylvania, as the son of Garrett Barcalow Stevens, a prosperous
country lawyer. His mother's family, the Zellers, were of Dutch origin.
Stevens attended the Reading Boys' High School, and enrolled in 1893 at
Harvard College. During this period Stevens began to write for the
Harvard Advocate, Trend, and Harriet Monroe's magazine Poetry.
After leaving Harvard without degree in 1900, Stevens worked as a reporter
for the New York Tribune. He then entered New York Law School,
graduated in 1903, and was admitted to the bar next year. Stevens
worked as an attorney in several firms and in 1908 began working with the
American Bonding Company. He married Elsie Kachel Moll, a shop girl, from
his home town; their daughter, Holly, was born in 1924.
Ezra Pound, Stevens wrote 'Sunday Morning', his famous breakthrough work. It
starts with 'coffee and oranges in a sunny chair' but ends with images of
another reality, death, and universal chaos.
She hears, upon that
water without sound,
A voice that cries: "The tomb in Palestine,
not the porch of spirits lingering;
It is the grave of Jesus, where He
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide
(from Sunday Morning)
collection of verse was , Harmonium (1923), at the age of forty-four.
Although it was well received by some reviewers, it sold only 100 copies.
Currently the collection is regarded as one of the great works of American
poetry. Harmonium included 'The Emperor of the Ice Cream', one of
Stevens's own favorite poems.
In the mid-1910s Stevens moved to
Connecticut, where he worked as a specialist in investment banking of the
Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Insurance business took most of
Stevens's time and he published very little. Stevens's next collection of
poems, was published in 1935, and received mixed critics, with accusations
of indifference to political and social tensions of the day from the Marxist
journal New Masses. However, according to Joan Richardson's biography
from 1988, Stevens was a closet socialist during the 1930's, but did not
make his views a public issue In Owl’s Clover (1937) Stevens
meditated on art and politics.
From the early 1940s Stevens entered a
period of creativity that continued until his death in Hartford on August 2,
in 1955. He turned gradually away from the playful use of language to a more
reflective, though abstract style. Among his acclaimed poems were 'Notes
toward a Supreme Fiction', 'The Auroras of Autumn', 'An Ordinary Evening in
New Haven', and 'The Planet on the Table'.
Before gaining national
fame as a poet Stevens enjoyed a high respect among his colleagues. His life
as a corporate lawyer did not impede his creativity as a lyric poet.
1946 Stevens was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in
1950 he received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and in 1955 he was awarded
both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
This odd poem captures a whitewashed world, where nothing is "strange," and
that accounts for the disillusionment, after all. It is ten o'clock at night
with all ready for or in bed. Perhaps a few drunkards dream of something
"strange," but this disillusioned, white night gowned world is not
A strange waltz is born out of the declamation which announces this haunted
world, haunted not so much by that which is "strange" but rather by that
which is ordinary. The setting gives sweet lie to the assertion of the poet
that "none of them are strange," for we think such white nightgowns without
decoration all to be strange, merely nightgowns and not decorated
"lingerie." The poet hints at those drunken sailors asleep with their boots
on, indicating no night of love making, merely a night of sleeping off
another bout of drinking.
The score to Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock is available as a free
PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the
work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the
graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock