The Blue Guitar

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.’

The man replied, ‘Things as they are

are changed upon the blue guitar.’

        — “The Blue Guitar” by Wallace Stevens

 

I do my best to tell it true

a thing exceeding hard to do

or tell it slant as Emily

advises in her poetry,

and, colour blind, how can I know

if green is blue or cinnabar.

Find me a colour chart that I

can check against a summer sky.

My eye is on a distant star.

They said, You have a blue guitar.

 

‘I have,’ the man replied, ‘it’s true.

The instrument I strum is blue

I strum my joy, I strum my pain

I strum the sun, I strum the rain.

But tell me, what is that to you?

You see things as you think they are.

Remove the mote within your ear

then talk to me of what you hear.’

They said, ‘Go smoke a blue cigar!

You do not play things as they are.

 

‘Things as they are? Above? Below?

In hell or heaven? Fast or slow…?’

They silenced him. ‘It’s not about

philosophy, so cut it out.

We want the truth and not what you

are playing on the blue guitar.

So start again and play it straight

don’t improvise, prevaricate.

Just play things as they really are.’

The man replied, Things as they are

 

are not the same as things that were

or will be in another year.

The literal is rarely true

for truth is old and truth is new

and faceted — a metaphor

for something higher than we are.

I play the truth of Everyman

I play the truth as best I can.

The things I play are better far

when changed upon the blue guitar.

Reprinted from Coal and Roses by P. K. Page by permission of the Porcupine’s Quill. Copyright © 2009 by The Estate of P.K. Page.