Harold Bloom Recites ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’ by Wallace Stevens

Lit­er­ary crit­ic Harold Bloom once called Wal­lace Stevens (1879–1955) “the best and most rep­re­sen­ta­tive Amer­i­can poet of our time.” In this video from Boston Col­lege’s Guest­book Project, Bloom recites a poem from Steven­s’s first book, Har­mo­ni­um, which was pub­lished in 1923:

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in pur­ple I descend­ed
The west­ern day through what you called
The loneli­est air, not less was I myself.

What was the oint­ment sprin­kled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the gold­en oint­ment rained,
And my ears made the blow­ing hymns they heard.
I was myself the com­pass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more tru­ly and more strange.

“The palaz of Hoon is sky and space seen as a gaudy and ornate dwelling,” writes Bloom in Wal­lace Stevens: The Poems of Our Cli­mate; “to have tea at the palaz is to watch the twi­light while con­vers­ing with the set­ting sun, who is hard­ly lone­ly since all the air is his and since all direc­tions are at home in him. He is him­self when most impe­r­i­al, in pur­ple and gold, and his set­ting is a coro­na­tion.”

The video con­cludes with Bloom recit­ing the open­ing stan­za from a lat­er poem by Stevens that echoes the ear­li­er one, a poem regret­tably titled “Like Dec­o­ra­tions in a Nig­ger Ceme­tery”:

In the far South the sun of autumn is pass­ing
Like Walt Whit­man walk­ing along a rud­dy shore.
He is singing and chant­i­ng the things that are part of him,
The worlds that were and will be, death and day.
Noth­ing is final, he chants. No man shall see the end.
His beard is of fire and his staff is a leap­ing flame.

“Whit­man, like Hoon,” writes Bloom, “both con­tains every­thing else and is an idea of the sun, not as a god but as a god might be. Hoon is him­self the com­pass of the sea whose tides sweep through him; Walt encom­pass­es worlds but him­self is not to be encom­passed.”

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