Bicester Village 比斯特购物村
Of Modern Poetry
At the Backs of King’s College there is a memorial stone in white marble
commemorating an alumnus of the College, renowned Chinese poet Xu Zhimo.
Moving to the UK in 1921, Zhimo spent a year studying at King’s, where
he fell in love not only with the romantic poetry of English poets like
John Keats, but also with Cambridge itself.
According to a 2017 VisitBritain report, more than 260,000 Chinese
tourists visit the UK each year. And where do they go? It claimed that
“they are mostly interested in symbolic elements: the Royal Family,
Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey”. So expect
crowds at Windsor Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Baker Street, The
Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Highclere Castle.
OF MODERN POETRY: SUMMARY (MASTERPIECES OF AMERICAN LITERATURE)
One of the most frequently anthologized of Stevens’s poems, “Of Modern
Poetry” is another work that attempts to define art for a fragmented
world in constant flux. Poetry is now a search, whereas it used to be a
method. In the past, “the scene was set; it repeated what/ Was in the
script.” That is, convention and tradition defined poetry, and each poem
was a modification of a pattern. Now, Stevens says, the conventions no
His poem, 再别康桥 (variously translated as Second Farewell to
Cambridge), is arguably his most famous poem, and is now a compulsory
text on Chinese literature syllabuses, learnt by millions of school
children across the country every year. The poem paints an idyllic
portrait of King’s and the River Cam, and serves as a reminder of Xu
Zhimo’s fondness for his time in Cambridge.?
Then there’s the shopping. Spending figures for Chinese tourists are
truly staggering. According to the UNWTO, Chinese tourists overseas
spent $261.1 billion in 2016, up from around $10 billion in the year
The poem must reflect the world, speak its speech; it must “face the men
of the time and . . . meet/ The women of the time.” War, the
contemporary state of affairs, must have a part in it. Most important,
it must find “what will suffice,” a phrase repeated twice in the poem.
The search for “what will suffice” amounts to a search for satisfaction,
a solace for the mind’s pain of isolation. It must, in fact, express the
mind to itself, so that it becomes the internal made visible. The actor
must speak words that “in the delicatest ear of the mind” repeat what it
desires to hear.
- Collectively, America’s globetrotters parted with a relatively
paltry $123.6 billion.
The imagery so far has been of the theater, but when the method of this
new poetry is described, philosophy and music are interwoven with
theater images to give the impression of an art that is plastic and
fluid. The actor becomes “a metaphysician in the dark,” suggesting a
thinker concerned with first and final causes but lacking the light of
any received structure for his meditations. He is, moreover, “twanging
an instrument,” creating a music that is “sounds passing through sudden
rightnesses.” These vibrations are the mind’s own pulsations made
audible to it.
While the poem has been set to music many times before, King’s has
commissioned the first musical setting of the text by a mainstream
classical composer. The new piece, by renowned English composer John
Rutter, has been written and recorded in celebration of the near
100-year link between King’s College and Xu Zhimo, and has been released
on 26 January 2018 on a new album on the King’s College Record Label.
The poem concludes by returning to the subject matter of modern poetry,
which can be any action in which the self is expressed: It “may/ Be of a
man skating, a woman dancing, a woman/ Combing.” The subject is not the
important issue, however, for the real poem is the act of creating
poetry; modern poetry is finally “The poem of the mind in the act of
finding/ What will suffice.” This poem twists and turns in an attempt to
catch a glimpse of its own creation. It is about itself: Modern poetry,
and this work defining it, are self-reflexive. The poem is the creation
of poetry and not the product.
“Cynical young Chinese will scornfully tell you that the travelling
middle classes pay lip service to appreciating culture, but they are
mainly after the goods: specifically, European brands they can buy in
situ, and bring home to lord over their non-travelling neighbours,” says
Telegraph Travel’s Sally Peck, a former Beijing resident. “This may go
some way to explaining the extraordinary spending figures.”
This poem contains germs of the ideas that Stevens would develop and
elaborate in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” in which he claims that
poetry must be abstract, must change, and must give pleasure.
“Many intellectual transformations happened for him while he was here
and in some ways the whole seed of his development as a person who
became an intellectual poet, through the medium of poetry, all sort of
connected up with his visit to Cambridge and the people we met.”
OF MODERN POETRY: THEMES AND MEANINGS (CRITICAL GUIDE TO POETRY FOR
All of which reveals why Bicester Village, a vast retail estate on the
outskirts of the Oxfordshire town, is the second most visited UK
attraction for Chinese tourists – after Buckingham Palace. Three in four
Chinese visitors head to Bicester aided by Mandarin signs and
announcements at London Marylebone; others travel by tour bus.
“Of Modern Poetry” is one of Stevens’s most frequently anthologized
poems, and it may be the most commonly encountered poem from the
collection that contains it, Parts of a World. Its popularity may be
attributable in part to the relative clarity with which it presents its
themes. The quest for “what will suffice” appears in other Stevens poems
as well, including “Man and Bottle.” The search for a fiction that will
be sustaining or nourishing to human beings in their uncertain lives is
Stevens’s major theme. In this poem, the theme is not hidden or
The poem explores what characteristics poetry must have if it is to
“suffice”—that is, to be enough or to satisfy. It is the uncertainty of
the time that places so many demands on poetry, because poetry, to
satisfy, must not violate reality. Therefore, wartime demands poetry
which confronts war issues rather than hides from them. As each age
speaks its own language, so the speech of the poem must reflect and
partake of the discourse of the time. Otherwise it will not satisfy. It
is axiomatic in Stevens that building a romantic world which can serve
as a shelter from the unpleasantness of reality is not the function of
poetry. Some of Stevens’s early critics thought of him as an escapist,
an ivory-tower poet who had little contact with the real world and
little interest in it. He fought such dismissal vigorously in both
poetry and essay, claiming that the poet must confront reality. The work
of the imagination lies in its interactions with the real, not in
disguises or evasions of reality.
整首曲目以男高音中文独唱（soli tenor voice
The presentation of what modern poetry is actually like or should be
like is more complex, presented as it is in a series of metaphors of
actors, musicians, and metaphysicians. The substance of poetry is its
sounds; these sounds ideally have all the dimensions that they could be
given by those other art forms and disciplines.
“John Rutter is a very resourceful composer, and I was delighted with
the way he conceived of doing this, presenting most of the text through
the tenor voice for which we engage the Chinese tenor. Well, I wanted to
have a go myself at making an arrangement of it which would express
something of what we do at King’s.”
King’s College, Cambridge 剑桥大学国王学院
Still more subtle is the description of the response to this ideal
poetry. The audience is really listening “not to the play, but to
itself.” If the reality of the present is adequately represented in
sound, the reader will find himself or herself in the poem. There will
be an identification, described in the poem in terms of music that is
somehow metaphysical: “The actor is/ A metaphysician in the dark,
twanging/ An instrument.” Poetry is thus presented as a metaphysical
music that helps the mind define itself and learn of its own limits and
possibilities. The identity of mind and music is a positive pleasure,
consisting of “Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly/
Containing the mind.”
A famous tree – for Chinese people at least – can be found in King’s
College, Cambridge. The willow, ignored by most, is mentioned in a
much-loved poem by Xu Zhimo, ‘Taking Leave of Cambridge Again’:
The conclusion of the poem retreats from the intensity of the middle
section as it presents some of the materials of poetry. The subject
matter of poetry is far less significant than the creative act itself,
suggests the poem, and only as an afterthought should poetic subjects
even be mentioned. Nevertheless, the images of the three people, two
women and a man, caught in their acts of living, provide appropriate
closure. It may be true that all of Stevens’s poetry is about writing
poetry, but that does not make it—or this poem—narrow or exclusive.
Stevens describes the creative drive as a basic force that is part of
what it is to be human.
“The inspiration I think came from the poem which is on the tablet by
the bridge by the river camp here in the college. Apart from the tourist
self and the words, which of course are quite big elements in it, it’s
not specifically intended to be a Chinese piece. It’s the sort of
arrangement I would make for something like that, and it’s a very
OF MODERN POETRY: THE POEM (CRITICAL GUIDE TO POETRY FOR STUDENTS)
The golden willows by the riverside
“Of Modern Poetry” attempts to redefine poetry for a world with no
stable structures or values. Its form approaches blank verse, but it is
not close enough to that form to be so labeled. The form is flexible,
with five stresses in most lines but six or four in others. The loose
form is appropriate for this poem, as a part of its argument is that
modern poetry refuses labels, designations, and categories of all kinds.
Are young brides in the setting sun;
The poem begins with its basic definition: Modern poetry is “The poem of
the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” Contemporary poetry
must be self-descriptive; it must look at itself searching and must
observe its own invention. Thus, poetry is not so much a product as an
act or activity. In the past, the speaker continues, the “scene was
set”: Poetry was formerly a matter of following the conventions.
Everyone knew what was considered poetic material and what the
acceptable forms of poetry were. This is no longer the case. The new
poetry must be written in today’s language, and it must reflect changing
times and shifting concerns. It must include a consideration of war, for
example. (The poem was published during World War II.) It must make use
of the materials that are currently available to create a representation
of those who will read it.
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
The poem then compares the poet with other types of artist for whom
performance is a major part of their artistry. These comparisons help
communicate the point that poetry must be activity if it is to speak to
the present. The poet becomes an actor, a musician, and a “metaphysician
in the dark” in his attempt to portray the time period as it is, for
those who live in it. Elements of other arts and disciplines are
attributed to poetry.
Keep undulating in my heart.
The concluding lines add to the previous definition, stating that poetry
must be “the finding of a satisfaction.” The earlier quest is identified
as a search for “what would suffice.” These two words, “suffice” and
“satisfaction,” suggest that poetry has as its goal a kind of
consolation. The suggestion looks forward to Wallace Stevens’s major
statement of his poetic theory, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” in
which he develops a substantial argument concerning poetry: “It Must
Give Pleasure.” In the conclusion to “Of Modern Poetry” he also offers
possible subjects for poetry—“a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman/
Combing.” His subjects are all actions, activities which might be
considered celebrations of the present by those who feel enough at home
in it to move with its movements. Flux and flow are a necessary part of
“the poem of the act of the mind.”
OF MODERN POETRY: FORMS AND DEVICES (CRITICAL GUIDE TO POETRY FOR
The form of the poem as a whole reflects its insistence that form not be
prescribed for modern poetry. The twenty-eight lines are arranged
according to no set pattern, but the suggestion of blank verse underlies
the poem and gives a feeling of coherence to it. The poem is broken into
sections which provide its major propositions. It is not a syllogism or
formal argument, but it makes three main points. It begins by
introducing the issue of modern poetry and the difference between past
and present poetry. In its most extended section, it then describes the
new demands made on poetry by a complicated and skeptical age. Finally,
it comments on possible subjects for poetry.
The metaphors in this poem all point in the same direction; they are all
attempts to describe modern poetry in such a way as to make “Of Modern
Poetry” both explanation and example. Traditional poetry is described as
a theater in which “the scene was set.” Past poets could repeat “what
was in the script”: Their powers of invention were not taxed in the same
way that those of poets now are. To introduce the new poetry, the poem
personifies or animates poetry itself, saying that it has to “learn the
speech of the place” and “think about war.” Poetry is then compared with
an actor who is speaking into “the delicatest ear of the mind.” In turn,
the actor is compared with yet another figure, a metaphysician, who is
then presented as a musician. All these shifting comparisons are
confusing if analyzed logically, but they serve to characterize a poetry
that is itself shifting, grounded on uncertainty, and reflective of
lived life rather than tradition or convention. That drama, metaphysics,
music, and poetry are in some ways equivalent and that they can flow
from and into one another is a part of the theme of the poem. The
metaphors demonstrate what the poem explains.
That action is a necessary part of contemporary poetry is suggested by
the flowing run-on lines and by the number of present participles and
gerunds that appear throughout the poem, such as “passing,” “twanging,”
“skating,” and “dancing.” The modern poetry that is the “poem of the act
of the mind” reflects the particular actions which are contemporary
Xu spent a year studying at King’s College, where he was entranced by
the work of Keats and Shelley, before returning to China to lead its
modern poetry movement. Renowned for his love affairs, Xu died at the
age of just 34 in a plane crash and the willow is now considered by his
fans to be a shrine to lost youth. A memorial stone can be found beside
the tree – an essential spot for Chinese tourists to grab a snap.
OF MODERN POETRY: BIBLIOGRAPHY (MASTERPIECES OF AMERICAN LITERATURE)
Bates, Milton J. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1985.
Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.
Germany’s answer to Bicester Village is Outletcity in Metzingen, the
town in Baden-Württemberg, close to Frankfurt, where Hugo Boss was
founded. It has little to lure anyone beyond scores of factory outlets.
Hugo Boss was the first, but Prada, Nike, Burberry, Armani and Gucci, to
name a few, have since followed suit. As the?Economist?points out,
there’s an irony to the fact that many items bear “Made in China”
labels, but high taxes and duties mean prices are around 40 percent
lower than those found in Beijing.
Cleghorn, Angus J. Wallace Stevens’ Poetics: The Neglected Rhetoric. New
York: Palgrave, 2000.
Critchley, Simon. Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace
Stevens. New York: Routledge, 2005.