Gertie Stein

The following sentence, credited to Gertrude Stein, oozes ambiguity from where Im sitting. For the life of me, I cant find an explanation by Stein, as to what she actually meant: ‘Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?’

Could any of Scriv`s illustrious scriobhneiors offer assistance?
Thank you

Never had much luck, Vic, deciphering any of la Gertie’s writing. The one fairly simple and straightforward bit – so I foolishly presumed – in which I did feel comfortable was “Rose is a rose…[etc],” where the first Rose is a woman named Rose; no matter, far as I was concerned, whether the ultimate message was the gentle petals or the vicious thorns. Then Stein re-used the line and made it, “A rose is a rose…” Well, still okay, I said. Then Robert Frost picked it up in…

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose–
But you were always a rose.

…some bit of which I always wished I had been clever enough to put together in my youthful search for truth, beauty, and pliable young women. But didn’t. Anyway, we never really…

What was the question?


Thanks pal :frowning:

It is like pigeons on the grass alas.

Without helpful context, one can only wildly speculate, but my armchair diagnosis would be something like: <Why should a sentence be anything but a pleasure? . . . as opposed to having to mean (or be there for the sake of meaning) in some literal-minded and dreary sense.>

In the fine Stein I am familiar with many of the sentences exist largely for their own sakes, as it were. It seems clear that they are there as much for the music they make, for the trance pattern they are a part of, as for any new advance they make to the content of the text. And the sentences are generally structured as they are for their rhythm. But don’t try these things at home, kids!

One can easily imagine the line as Stein’s response to some interviewer quoting back to her some snippet of her writing–maybe a famous line–and asking her what it meant. In that way, it would be a slightly more forthcoming cousin to Samuel Beckett’s “Don’t ask me what it means. It is an object.”

That’s my two speculation’s worth.

Hi Greg,
Thanks for your speculations, much appreciated.
The only time I locked horns with Gert, I ended up with a headache, and was moved t`ards copious amounts of extremely deletable obscene expletive laden invective. Could that have had anything to do with trance patterns? :confused:
Take care

No, no. I think you can chalk that up to the lurching tile pattern on the floor at the Red Lion bedizened as it would be by a well-juiced brain.


As gr says context is really required here though I suspect there’s really not much there to fret about.

For example, I would imagine the following sequence of words is perfectly reasonable, natural, and not a pleasure:

“Your account is over-drawn.”


Thank you. My point exactly. Even worse would be: “Time gentlemen please!!!”

In those two examples though, isn’t pleasure relative to your position in respect to the string of words? Maybe the bank manager is a sadist? Maybe the “gentlemen” are really just drunken louts needing to leave so the speaker can go spend some time with the better half. Isn’t pleasure like beauty as it is “in the eye of the beholder”?

One might argue that I see a string of words that argue a point as a pleasure.

I really must protest – not that last and truly painful sentence of Jaysen’s, I can look passed that – but, really, on no plausible interpretation is Stein asserting that every [sequence of words [size=50]–edit for v-k[/size]] is a pleasure – which seems to be the operative assumption of the current foray.

Puts foot down,

Certainly not my position. My position is that any string of words CAN be a pleasure and that in some case they may only pleasure certain individuals. I would add to that, some stings of word exist for no reason other than the pleasure produced by the writing. As evidence I offer just about everything I have written that is not directly related to work, public education, or bills. If you have ever read any technical reference manual it becomes clear, very clear, that some strings exist solely to communicate information.

As to my closing statement in the previous post, consider it applicable. Often.


Pay attention now. S.E.Q.U.E.N.C.E. not sentence. Wot’ y’sall like tch! tch! :open_mouth:

Can I quote you on that? Oops, too late.

When a typo becomes a window to the soul.


Somewhere deep inside, where the gut feelings reside, I have a minuscule, but, growing knot of discomfort, nudging me t’wards the belief, that old Gert, wants us to concentrate our ponderings upon her use of the word, sequence, as opposed to, sentence.

Her quote, at first glance, at least as I read it, is telling us it,s a no-brainer, that a sequence of words has to be a pleasure. That’s, any, sequence of words, e.g., faecal fats septic tank cesspit nasal mucous slime vomit putrefaction decay stench miasma debtors prison repossession sewerage sludge. Only Paul the quiet one, could find anything pleasure inducing in that lot.

However, on my second reading, I felt she was questioning my first assumption. Then I reread, and returned to my first impression. I think it`s a paean to the most sophisticated means of communication, in the known universe as we so far know it.

Gertie said:

Greg said:

And then he continued:

As I said before there’s too little context to truly see what she’s talking about. But contrary to Greg’s second statement, the use of ‘a sequence’ indicates to me she is stating a general case. As Greg pointed out in the first quote, much of what she writes appears focused on the sound, euphony, and cadence of the words with oblique attention paid to the overall meaning. I contend that she does that well, but her statement is questionable: the meaning of some sequences of words, no matter how pleasing their aural structure, can evoke distinct displeasure in the reader.

Well, in any case, angels dancing on pins, here.


“Weedy Legion”

Not everyone used to think highly of Gertrude Stein. See British poet and critic Hugh Sykes Davies in 1936, in Jacket magazine 20, at

Hugh Sykes Davies: review of Narration. By Gertrude Stein. (The University of Chicago Press.) 11s.6d. [Eleven shillings and sixpence.] This piece was first published in ‘Books of the Quarter’, in Criterion, 15/61, July 1936, pages 752–5. It is 1,700 words or about four printed pages long.


“In fact all Miss Stein’s old virtues have forsaken her. The trick of constant repetition which gave pleasure when it was used in prose with no rational end, for purely aesthetic purposes, has adapted itself very ill to the making of statements with meaning. It is bad enough to hear a silly theory advanced once, it is agony to hear it advanced twenty times in quick succession. And the faults which have sprung up in the ground left vacant by the dead virtues are a weedy legion—the vagueness of conception, slackness of thought, the endeavour to make commonplace views impressive by gesticulation and emphasis. It is a pity.”

John Tranter

An attempt at a rational response: It seems that Ms Stein is not saying that every sequence of words is a pleasure, but is asking why shouldn’t it be? That is, as writers, why should we not always write pleasurable sequences of words? And to that I say, “Amen”.

I want to write fiction and poetry, instead I am writing a doctoral thesis. As punishment for my sins, I need to read undergraduate papers to earn income while I write. Hence I KNOW the pain that can be inflicted by sequences of words*. But then, occasionally, comes a paper that is a pleasure to read. Not poetry. But clear, articulate, and a pleasure to read.

I always aspire to write well, because ‘Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?’. Sometimes I might even get close.

[size=85]*The same also applies to published academic papers, but at least they are (usually) well edited.[/size]