Monday, April 17, 2006

Wallace Stevens - Intro

Wallace Stevens - (1878-1955) - Stevens was one of the few great practicing poets to have ever lived who had a day job beyond writing. His first work, Harmonium, appeared at the dawn of the early surge in Modernist poetry - when the movement was at its earliest peak. It received a rather lukewarm reception; however, a spate of great Modernist works appearing between 1922-24 provides much insight into this. In the same year, e. e. cummings published Tulips and Chimneys and William Carlos Williams published Spring and All. The year previous saw the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land as well as Edna St. Vincent-Millay's The Harp Weaver; and the year following would produce Observations, by Marianne Moore, and Chills and Fever, by John Crowe Ransom.

From the present perspective, we see Harmonium as a definitive collection of its time: it is self-consciously seeking style; affirmative and enthusiastic, but tinged with darker thoughts of depression and defiance (Riddel 52). It also introduced the world to the first realizations of his beliefs, clarified in the "Adagia" of Opus Posthumous: first, "It is life that we are trying to get in poetry"; and second, "After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption." (157-58). Stevens, like many of his contemporaries, felt that the creator espoused by Christianity was far too distant to serve as the mediator between man and reality (Gilbert 82), and that the imagination was the only way through which man could perceive his world (Gustafson 85). He reconciled these through the language of his poetry, casting commonplace ideas, articles, and beliefs in a new way, the purpose of which was to force the reader to see the world around him, in which he was embedded in habitual practices precluding genuine perception and understanding of that world.

From a much longer essay/article. The sources are below. Please e-mail me for a complete copy of the essay.

Gilbert, Sandra M. ""Rats' Alley": The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)Pastoral Elegy." New Literary History 30.1 (1999): 179-201.

Gustafson, Richard. "The Practick of the Maker in Wallace Stevens." Twentieth Century Literature 9.2 (1963): 83-88.

Riddel, Joseph N. The Clairvoyant Eye: The Poetry and Poetics of Wallace Stevens. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1965.

All Stevens Poetry comes from either:
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. 1954. New York: Vintage, 1990.


Opus Posthumous. Ed. Samuel F. Morse. London: Faber and Faber, 1959.


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