15 September 2008

"Roast Beef," excerpted from Tender Buttons, by Gertrude Stein

Tender Buttons was one of Stein's experimental books of poetry, that sought to make old words retain new meaning. My advice is to read it aloud, with your own natural rhythms. The pacing should approximate the pacing of sex between two women, since that is the topic of the poem.

In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling. In the evening there is feeling. In feeling anything is resting, in feeling anything is mounting, in feeling there is resignation, in feeling there is recognition, in feeling there is recurrence and entirely mistaken there is pinching. All the standards have steamers and all the curtains have bed linen and all the yellow has discrimination and all the circle has circling. This makes sand.

Very well. Certainly the length is thinner and the rest, the round rest has a longer summer. To shine, why not shine, to shine, to station, to enlarge, to hurry the measure all this means nothing if there is singing, if there is singing then there is the resumption.

The change the dirt, not to change dirt means that there is no beefsteak and not to have that is no obstruction, it is so easy to exchange meaning, it is so easy to see the difference. The difference is that a plain resource is not entangled with thickness and it does not mean that thickness shows such cutting, it does mean that a meadow is useful and a cow absurd. It does not mean that there are tears, it does not mean that exudation is cumbersome, it means no more than a memory, a choice and a reëstablishment, it means more than any escape from a surrounding extra. All the time that there is use there is use and any time there is a surface there is a surface, and every time there is an exception there is an exception and every time there is a division there is a dividing. Any time there is a surface there is a surface and every time there is a suggestion there is a suggestion and every time there is silence there is silence and every time that is languid there is that there then and not oftener, not always, not particular, tender and changing and external and central and surrounded and singular and simple and the same and the surface and the circle and the shine and the succor and the white and the same and the better and the red and the same and the centre and the yellow and the tender and the better, and altogether.
EDIT: Edited introduction to better reflect intent, after helpful criticism by a commenter.


  1. Really? The title of a poem about women fucking is "roast beef"? Are the next excerpts entitled "ham curtains" and "pink leather sausage wallet"?

  2. I must say that the description given above is competely inaccurate. Gertrude Stein did not write things for the way they sounded, that was Arthur Rimbaud, and although she was a lesbian this and the rest of Tender Buttons was an atempt to break from tradtion and counter the crisis of Representation. As well as embracing the present moment to combat the modernist idea of the fleeting moment.

  3. I probably have misstated that aspect of the poem, but I think that it is absolutely best read aloud. As Sherwood Anderson would later reminisce, Stein was trying to "make familiar words seem like strangers." (_A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Stein_) Still, you're right that my brief description above is inadequate. Thank you for the heads-up; I appreciate it.