Throughout Gertrude Stein’s poem, “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso”, many of the lines and sentences are repeated. Stein even acknowledges her repetition in line 19 when she writes “now actively repeat at all”, which she then repeats three times. What is the purpose of all this repetition, what is she using it to say? As every line is repeated multiple times and sometimes in different sentence structures, but always with the same words, I thought that it sounded like the author was unsure of something, debating it back and forth in her head and constantly questioning herself.
She mentions Napoleon many times, and I thought of that with the last line of this poem, “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.” Napoleon is a historic reference of Napoleon Bonaparte from whom we learn not to let history repeat itself. From my high school history knowledge I remember that Napoleon tried to invade Russia in the winter and due to the freezing conditions he lost and then the Germans did not learn from napoleon, they too tried to invade Russia in the winter and lost as well. Through her repetition she seems to be debating something that maybe she should know from the past not to repeat or may influence the course of history.
Maybe she is debating whether to tell Picasso something or maybe through her poem she is trying to tell the readers something about Picasso, his art, his life. Picasso is known to have used numerous mediums and maybe the repetition is describing that. And maybe the repetition is describing how popular and spoken about the works of Picasso were.
As she mentions Napoleon many times through her poem, I connected this idea to the title of this poem, “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso” to interpret it to mean that Picasso, who is compared to “Napoleon” here “came first” and then influenced many other painters, sculptors and even writers (26). I am still uncertain how the first part of the title connects to the second.
What do you think is the purpose of the repetition?
How do you think the first part of the title connects to the second part and how do you think the title connects to the poem itself?