Gray Room

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

by Wallace Stevens

Comments (8)

What does it matter if Stevens is looking at a picture or sitting in a gray room with an actual woman? And What does it matter who the woman is? Stevens is speaking to a woman or possibly to womankind. This woman is in a gray room (life) yet she is surrounded by color and they are grand colors of silver, green (life) , red (passion) and she is dipping her finger in a bowl of water diddling a leaf - can it be any clearer what the poet is getting at. So much silence, so many tense images. Good grief, Stevens is not the kind of guy who is going to start singing Let's get it On.
Stevens is challenging the demure behavior of an oriental woman, possible a geisha, staring at her fan and adjusting her outfit, seemingly smothered by the fact that she is confined to a minimally responsive existence, yet all the while fire burns within her chest. She knows to love but not the manner in which to do so. Stop pretending to be alive and set yourself free...
i would just like to say both of you seem to be wrong. in this poem, a girl is frustrated because she is bored. the colors are mocking her in the 'gray' as in boring room she sits in. he says 'i know how furiously your heart is beating' because this is his point of view on what the girl is feeling. he is imagining what is going on in her head
Very good, guys, but the point seems to be that the room isn't gray at all.
Mr. Witt: Thanks for 'respectfully' disagreeing with my spontaneous interpretation of 'Gray Room.' Allow me to present a more compelling case and hopefully any disagreement will vanish into the ether of interpretive consonance. First, Stevens is certainly not 'talking to a picture' here. On this point you are spot on. In 'Gray Room' Stevens is addressing his readers (and of course himself as all poets must) by inviting them to don the 'pale white gown' of an idealized reanimation of what presumably once was a flesh-and-blood person. It makes no difference whether Stevens draws his inspiration here from a real piece of art or an equally real piece of his own imagination. It is clear he is asking the reader to sympathize with a subject whose identity is apparently separate from that of the reader. What is not so clear is whether Stevens invented the subject from whole-cloth or took some real or fictional person (presumably a woman) as his inspiration. Second, by inviting the reader to become for a moment a fictionalized person, Stevens creates an opening for the reader to breathe life into this fiction during the time spent experiencing the poem. I think the line 'What is all this? ' is Stevens' way of expressing to his readers (and to himself) his awestruck attitude toward the struggle for certainty of meaning that we all must experience in life. I can think of no other reason why the first person indicative makes its first and final appearance in the closing line of the poem. I'm pretty sure Stevens is celebrating the fact that at least a few things can be known for certain (e.g. that our hearts do indeed pound and that we are usually cognizant of such pounding when confronted with the challenge of finding meaning where it does not wish to be found so easily) .
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