“The delicacy of difference between the beans I count and one uncounted bean”

~ by Henry Taylor

“It may seem morbid of an embezzler to keep a memorandum, but many of them do. It may be mere neatness.”  Wallace Stevens

I’ve made a little sluice-gate in the flow
of cash across the spreadsheet on my screen.
Amid torrential chaos and foreseen
disasters it maintains its small and slow
on-off diversions, so my work can show
the delicacy of difference between
the beans I count and one uncounted bean,
and where the latter might invisibly go.

The hollowed shoe-tree, the hermetic jar
are gadgetry I might revert to yet.
There is the money of the thing, the far
secure retirement years, the deep-hedged bet,
but I love working where the unknowns are
and writing down what I need to forget.


Henry Taylor parodies the grandiloquent title of one of Wallace Stevens’ most knotty and abstruse poems, “The Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour.”

While a great poet, Stevens was also a highly placed executive in an insurance corporation. Thus Taylor refers here to morbidity, foreseen disasters, torrential chaos, and sluice-gates diverting the flood. Almost all these insurance-related terms are being punned upon.

Diversions refer to an embezzler’s illegally diverting funds. Morbidity is a severe degree of unhealthiness. Making a memorandum means keeping a record. And, of course, bean-counting is accountancy.

Morbidity here is psychological, a sort of death-drive, or “thanatos,” in the bean counter’s overly punctilious record keeping. A fatal compulsion. Accountants are notoriously driven to be fastidious about showing their work.

Author: MDM

Michael Dennis Mooney is a student of humor and witticism in verse. At this site he is compiling a selection of the best works using extended metaphor in poetry, with a special interest in satire, parody, and humor. Suggestions are welcome. Send your citations of favorites, by email, to mike.mooney.home@gmail.com He has a site "New Writings" at http://jcbcast.blogspot.com And a site for essays, 'His Epistles To The Philistines" at http://tothephilistines.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on ““The delicacy of difference between the beans I count and one uncounted bean”

  1. Clever, I suppose, but not that great as a parody. He hasn’t got Stevens down stylistically; this sounds a lot more like Frost or Roethke than Stevens. The overuse (and clumsy use) of enjambment is uncharacteristic of Stevens, as is the clumsy scansion in l. 8. When Stevens departs from iambic scansion it is for a purpose — there is, in fact, a fine example in “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” in l. 12: “A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.” How admirably that little anapest heightens the drama of the line, working in beautiful tension with the caesura. Stevens can also make the simplest iambic line into something unbearably poignant: witness l. 15, “How high that highest candle lights the dark.” My recommendation would be to study the subtleties of this example of Stevens’ mature powers and forget the stupid parody.

    1. I believe you’re right, Henry Taylor is only parodying the rather stilted titles that Stevens gives to his poems. Yet Stevens’ poem itself, The Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour, is not being parodied.

      Rather, a light verse piece on insurance-related concepts, morbidity, flood damage, disaster, etc. linked to analysis of the compulsively fastidious record-keeping of the bean-counter-cum-embezzler, as identified by Stevens in a prose piece. A pride in his work methods is what sinks the embezzler.

      I had not run across Henry Taylor before, but he appears to be one of the new formalists who are bringing poetic forms back. This is a perfect little sonnet in envelope quatrains — abba — very subtle and clever, ending in an epigrammatic rhymed couplet.


      I am planning to post a truly gorgeous piece from Anthony Hecht that will surely bring the light of cheer to your eyes, J. It is “A Poem For Julia.”

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