Gertrude Stein

It is really hard for me to grasp the poetry of Gertrude Stein. At first glance is is a mess. A ramble of images and colors and feelings and even after multiple readings of some of the passages in Tender Buttons I still find myself scratching my head and shuffling pages in frustration.

From what I can see Stein has taken all notions of what poetry is and completely ignored them. Her work is so chock full of devices, such as personification and willful ignorance of grammar, that the finished work is something that is incomprehensible at first and at least to me only sometimes illuminated by closer inspection.

Take A Red Hat. It begins “a dark grey, a very dark grey, a quite dark grey is monstrous ordinarily, it is so monstrous because there is no red in it.” Now from what I gather these little sections are titled what it is they are supposed to describe. In this case a red hat. And yet Stein goes off about the color grey and how it is “monstrous ordinarily”. I had to look up ordinarily, but what Stein seems to be saying is that grey is an awful and overused color in daily life, and it is so awful mainly because there is no red in the color grey. So, grey is ugly because it is used all the time and it is not red. Her next line reads “If red is in everything it is not necessary” meaning if red were used as often as grey then it would not be so appealing. The section ends with, “Is that not an argument for any use of it and even so is there any place that is better, is there any place that has so much stretched out?” which finally circles somewhat back to the subject, a red hat. Because red is not used as often as grey and thus is more appealing shouldn’t it be used more and what better use of the color red than a hat.

This interpretation is rough and loose, I totally disregarded the last part as I don’t know what she means by “so much stretched out.” Is the red already stretched out on a hat. I read this as a justification for making a red hat but if there is already a red hat then this poem reads crazy, as in the person who is thinking this while looking at a red hat is off her meds. And this is what I thought throughout Tender Buttons.


1) Well, as I mentioned I noticed that Stein places poetry right on its ear and was wondering what people thought of her style? Am I the only one who for the most part did not get it?

2)What type of poetical devices does she use? I commented on personification (ie calling a color monstrous) and grammar what other things did you notice?

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One Response to Gertrude Stein

  1. carnold13 says:

    When I first read Stein, I did not enjoy her. Some of the poems made no sense, and I was hard-pressed to attach meaning to most of them. I had just sat down and started reading them, not knowing what I was getting in to, and I had no clue why they were written the way they were. I found some value in the style when it came to creativity, because I had never seen poems written that way before. But when we read the poems out loud in class, it was like they transformed. They made sense, and they were beautiful. Stein’s poems are really meant to be read out loud, in order to grasp the true beauty and meaning behind them. She truly is a great poet, the reader just has to know how to approach her works in order to appreciate them.

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