“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.



In the Modern Period, we begin to see writers and poets finding new ways to look at relatively common objects.  “Anecdote of the Jar” by Wallace Stevens is a good example of this.  The narrator places a common household object—a jar—on a hill.  The jar has a rather poor effect on the surrounding countryside: it tames the wilderness and drives away the flora and fauna of Tennessee.

After a brief analysis of the poem, the reader might surmise that the “jar” is in fact a dam, and the “wilderness” is the lake the dam creates.  Stevens in the last stanza of the poem appears to be relating to the readers the destructive nature of the jar upon the environment; this destruction is nearly identical to the desolation a newly constructed dam would cause.  A dam would tame the river, and birds cannot come to rest in the bushes and trees if they are underwater.

Through the simple use of metaphor, Stevens has created a masterful work in the Modernist tradition.  Other writers and their work, such as William Carlos Williams’ poems “Spring and All” and “The Red Wheelbarrow,” address the issues of metaphor and fragmentation as well.

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