After a class partially devoted to “Anecdote of the Jar,” a student waggishly inquired of me, “A poem in praise of littering, eh?” Appreciative of her wit, I replied, “Technically no, since the poem’s speaker deliberately placed the mason jar on the pristine Tennessee hill.”
Stevens’s enigmatic poem often provokes such unexpected comments. My handout on it tries to energize, not expel, that ambiguity. It analyzes in detail the theme, structure, and stylistic characteristics of “Anecdote of the Jar” (which Stevens might have intended as a short playful parody of Keats’s long ultra-serious “Ode on a Grecian Urn”).
Through the handout, your students will examine how a plain, even dull, human-made jar takes the “wild” out of “wilderness,” reducing the majesty of nature to subservience. In the activities on the stylistic aspects of the poem (end and internal rhyme, imagery, and alliteration), students will make hands-on discoveries of how Stevens uses these to reinforce the theme of his poem.
As an addendum to the answer key, I have included three pages of information about Stevens’s life, the general themes of his poems, their stylistic features, and additional details about “Anecdote of the Jar” not covered in the handout for the students. These notes may prove helpful in answering any questions which your pupils may ask about Stevens or the poem, or you may simply decide to incorporate some of their points into class discussion of “Anecdote.”
My handout, which has blanks which your students can fill in, is suitable as an in-class activity or for homework. As mentioned, an Answer Key is provided on a separate sheet at the end of the handout.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.