Harriet Monroe, ed. (18601936). Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. 191222.
Carlos Among the Candles
By Wallace Stevens
The stage is indistinguishable when the curtain rises. The room represented is semi-circular. In the center, at the back, is a large round window, covered by long curtains. There is a door at the right and one at the left. Farther forward on the stage there are two long, low, wooden tables, one at the right and one at the left. The walls and the curtains over the window are of a dark reddish-purple, with a dim pattern of antique gold. Carlos is an eccentric pedant of about forty. He is dressed in black. He wears close-fitting breeches and a close-fitting, tightly-buttoned, short coat with long tails. His hair is rumpled. He leaps upon the stage through the door at the right. Nothing is visible through the door. He has a long thin white lighted taper, which he holds high above his head as he moves, fantastically, over the stage, examining the room in which he finds himself. When he has completed examining the room, he tip-toes to the table at the right and lights a single candle at the edge of the table nearest the front of the stage. It is a thin black candle, not less than two feet high. All the other candles are like it. They give very little light. He speaks in a lively manner, but is over-nice in sounding his words. As the candle begins to burn, he steps back, regarding it. Nothing else is visible on the table.
Carlos: How the solitude of this candle penetrates me! I light a candle in the darkness. It fills the darkness with solitude, which becomes my own. I become a part of the solitude of the candle of the darkness flowing over the house and into it This room and the profound room outside Just to go through a door, and the change the becoming a part, instantly, of that profounder room and equally to feel it communicating, with the same persistency, its own mood, its own influence and there, too, to feel the lesser influences of the shapes of things, of exhalations, sounds to feel the mood of the candle vanishing and the mood of the special night coming to take its place
[He sighs. After a pause he pirouettes, and then continues.]
I was always affected by the grand style. And yet I have been thinking neither of mountains nor of morgues To think of this light and of myself it is a duty . Is it because it makes me think of myself in other places in such a light or of other people in other places in such a light? How true that is: other people in other places in such a light If I looked in at that window and saw a single candle burning in an empty room but if I saw a figure If, now, I felt that there was someone outside The vague influence the influence that clutches But it is not only here and now It is in the morning the difference between a small window and a large window a blue window and a green window It is in the afternoon and in the evening in effects, so drifting, that I know myself to be incalculable, since the causes of what I am are incalculable
[He springs toward the table, flourishing his taper. At the end farthest from the front of the stage, he discovers a second candle, which he lights. He goes back to his former position.]
The solitude dissolves The light of two candles has a meaning different from the light of one and an effect different from the effect of one And the proof that that is so, is that I feel the difference The associations have drifted a little and changed, and I have followed in this change If I see myself in other places in such a light, it is not as I saw myself before. If I see other people in other places in such a light, the people and places are different from the people and places I saw before. The solitude is gone. It is as if a company of two or three people had just separated, or as if they were about to gather. These candles are too far apart.
[He flourishes his taper above the table and finds a third candle in the center of it, which he lights.]
And yet with only two candles it would have been a cold and respectable company; for the feeling of coldness and respectability persists in the presence of three, modified a little, as if a kind of stateliness had modified into a kind of elegance How far away from the isolation of the single candle, as arrogant of the vacancy around it as three are arrogant of association It is no longer as if a company had just separated. It is only as if it were about to gather as if one were soon to forget the room because of the people in the room people tempered by the lights around them, affected by the lights around them sensible that one more candle would turn this formative elegance into formative luxury.
[He lights a fourth candle. He indulges his humor.]
And the suggestion of luxury into the suggestion of magnificence.
And the beginning of magnificence into the beginning of splendor.
[He lights a sixth candle. He sighs deeply.]
In how short a time have I been solitary, then respectablein a company so cold as to be stately, then elegant, then conscious of luxury, even magnificence; and now I come, gradually, to the beginning of splendor. Truly, I am a modern.
[He dances around the room.]
To have changed so often and so much or to have been changed to have been carried by the lighting of six candles through so many lives and to have been brought among so many people This grows more wonderful. Six candles burn like an adventure that has been completed. They are established. They are a city six common candles seven
[He lights another, and another, until he has lighted twelve, saying after them, in turn:]
Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.
[Following this, he goes on tip-toe to the center of the stage, where he looks at the candles. Their brilliance has raised his spirits to the point of gaiety. He turns from the lighted table to face the dark one at the left. He holds his taper before him.]
Darkness again as if a night wind had come blowing but too weakly to fling the cloth of darkness.
[He goes to the window, draws one of the curtains a little and peers out. He sees nothing.]
I had as lief look into night as look into the dark corner of a room. Darkness expels me.
[He goes forward, holding his taper high above him, until he comes to the table at the left. He finds this covered with candles, like the table at the right, and lights them, with whimsical motions, one by one. When all the candles have been lighted, he runs to the center of the stage, holding his hands over his eyes. Then he returns to the window and flings aside the curtains. The light from the window falls on the tall stalks of flowers outside. The flowers are like hollyhocks, but they are unnaturally large, of gold and silver. He speaks excitedly.]
Where now is my solitude and the lonely figure of solitude? Where now are the two stately ones that left their coldness behind them? They have taken their bareness with them. Their coldness has followed them. Here there will be silks and fans the movement of arms rumors of Renoir coiffures hands scorn of Debussy communications of body to body There will be servants, as fat as plums, bearing pineapples from the Azores because of twenty-four candles, burning together, as if their light had dispelled a phantasm, falling on silks and fans the movement of arms The pulse of the crowd will beat out the shallow pulses it will fill me.
[A strong gust of wind suddenly blows into the room, extinguishing several of the candles on the table at the left. He runs to the table at the left and looks, as if startled, at the extinguished candles. He buries his head in his arms.]
That, too, was phantasm The night wind came into the room The fans are invisible upon the floor.
[In a burst of feeling, he blows out all the candles that are still burning on the table at the left. He crosses the stage and stands before the table at the right. After a moment he goes slowly to the back of the stage and draws the curtains over the window. He returns to the table at the right.]
What is there in the extinguishing of light? It is like twelve wild birds flying in autumn.
[He blows out one of the candles.]
It is like an eleven-limbed oak tree, brass-colored in frost . Regret
The extinguishing of light is like the five purple palmations of cinquefoil withering It is full of the incipiencies of darkness of desolation that rises as a feeling rises Imagination wills the five purple palmations of cinquefoil. But in this light they have the appearance of withering To feel and, in the midst of feeling, to imagine
[He blows out another candle.]
The extinguishing of light is like the four posts of a cadaver, two at its head and two at its feet, to-wit: its arms and legs.
[He blows out another candle.]
It is like three peregrins, departing.
[He blows out another candle.]
It is like heaven and earth in the eye of the disbeliever.
[He blows out another candle. He dances around the room. He returns to the single candle that remains burning.]
The extinguishing of light is like that old Hesper, clapped upon by clouds.
[He stands in front of the candle, so as to obscure it.]
The spikes of his light bristle around the edge of the bulk. The spikes bristle among the clouds and behind them. There is a spot where he was bright in the sky It remains fixed a little in the mind.
[He opens the door at the right. Outside, the night is as blue as water. He crosses the stage and opens the door at the left. Once more he flings aside the curtains. He extinguishes his taper. He looks out. He speaks with elation.]