Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and the New York Law School, and worked for most of his life as an attorney with the Hartford Insurance Company and its predecessors, and was a vice president at the time of his death. (He turned down a faculty position at Harvard since it would have required him to quit his vice presidency at the Hartford.)
A leading light of the American Modernism, Stevens published nine collections of poetry, including Collected Poems (1954), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Four collections were published after his death, as were three collections of his letters. His poetry influenced such poets as James Merrill, Donald Justice, John Hollander, John Ashberry, Jorie Graham and many others.
This poem is from Opus Posthumous, published in 1957.
The Sick Man
Bands of black men seem to be drifting in the air,
In the South, bands of thousands of black men,
Playing mouth organs in the night or, now, guitars.
Here in the North, late, late, there are voices of men,
Voices in chorus, singing without words, remote and deep,
Drifting choirs, long movements and turnings of sounds.
And in a bed in one room, alone, a listener
Waits for the unison of the music of the drifting bands
And the dissolving chorals, waits for it and imagines
The words of winter in which these two will come together,
In the ceiling of the distant room, in which he lies,
The listener, listening to the shadows, seeing them,
Choosing out of himself, out of everything within him,
Speech for the quiet, good hail of himself, good hail, good hail,
The peaceful, blissful words, well-tuned, well-sung, well-spoken.