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Wallace Stevens
Born October 2, 1879(1879-10-02)
Reading, Pennsylvania, United States
Died August 2, 1955 (aged 75)
Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Occupation Poet, Insurance Executive
Nationality American
Period 1914-1955
Literary movement Modernism
Notable work(s) Harmonium
The Idea of Order at Key West
The Man With the Blue Guitar
The Auroras of Autumn
Spouse(s) Elsie Viola Kachel (m. 1909-1955)
Children Holly Stevens (born 1924)
1936 Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dime with the profile image of Stevens's wife, Elsie
Stevens' Hartford residence

Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American Modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and spent most of his life working as a lawyer for an insurance company in Connecticut.

His best-known poems include "Anecdote of the Jar," "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock", "The Emperor of Ice Cream," "The Idea of Order at Key West," "Sunday Morning," "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Contents

Life and career

The son of a prosperous lawyer, Stevens attended Harvard as a non-degree special student, after which he moved to New York City and briefly worked as a journalist. He then attended New York Law School, graduating in 1903. On a trip back to Reading in 1904 Stevens met Elsie Viola Kachel (1886-1963, aka Elsie Moll), a young woman who had worked as a saleswoman, milliner, and stenographer.[1] After a long courtship, he married her in 1909 over the objections of his parents, who considered her lower-class. As The New York Times reported in an article in 2009, "Nobody from his family attended the wedding, and Stevens never again visited or spoke to his parents during his father’s lifetime".[2] A daughter, Holly, was born in 1924. She later edited her father's letters and a collection of his poems.[3]

In 1913, the Stevenses rented a New York City apartment from sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, who made a bust of Elsie. Her striking profile was later used on Weinman's 1916-1945 Mercury dime design and possibly for the head of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. In later years Elsie Stevens began to exhibit symptoms of mental illness and the marriage suffered as a result, but the Stevenses never divorced.[4]

After working for several New York law firms from 1904 to 1907, he was hired on January 13, 1908, as a lawyer for the American Bonding Company.[5] By 1914 he had become the vice-president of the New York office of the Equitable Surety Company of St. Louis, Missouri[6]. When this job was abolished as a result of mergers in 1916, he joined the home office of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company[7] and left New York City to live in Hartford, where he would remain the rest of his life. By 1934, he had been named vice-president of the company.[8] After he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, he was offered a faculty position at Harvard but declined since it would have required him to give up his vice-presidency of The Hartford.[9]

From 1922 to 1940, Stevens made numerous visits to Key West, Florida, where he generally lodged at the Casa Marina, a hotel on the Atlantic Ocean. He first visited in January 1922, while on a business trip. "The place is a paradise," he wrote to Elsie, "midsummer weather, the sky brilliantly clear and intensely blue, the sea blue and green beyond what you have ever seen."[10] The influence of Key West upon Stevens's poetry is evident in many of the poems published in his first two collections, Harmonium and Ideas of Order.[11] In February 1935, Stevens encountered the poet Robert Frost at the Casa Marina. The two men argued, and Frost reported that Stevens had been drunk and acted inappropriately. The following year, Stevens allegedly assaulted Ernest Hemingway at a party at the Waddell Street home of a mutual acquaintance. Stevens broke his hand, apparently from hitting Hemingway's jaw, and was repeatedly knocked to the street by Hemingway. Stevens later apologized.[12] In 1940, Stevens made his final trip to Key West. Frost was at the Casa Marina again, and again the two men argued.[13]

In the 1930s and 1940s, he was welcomed as a member of the exclusive set centered on the artistic and literary devotees Barbara and Henry Church.

Stevens may have been baptized a Catholic in April 1955 by Fr. Arthur Hanley, chaplain of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, where Stevens spent his last days suffering from stomach cancer.[14] This purported deathbed conversion is disputed, particularly by Stevens's daughter, Holly.[15] There is also no record of Stevens' "baptism," although all Roman Catholic priests are required to record the baptisms that they perform.[16] After a brief release from the hospital, Stevens was readmitted and died on August 2, 1955, at the age of 75. He is buried in Hartford's Cedar Hill Cemetery.

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Political Views

Stevens was politically conservative and a Republican in the mold of Robert Taft.[17]

Poetry

Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main output came at a fairly advanced age. His first major publication (four poems from a sequence entitled "Phases" in the November 1914 edition of Poetry Magazine)[18] was written at the age of thirty-five, although as an undergraduate at Harvard, Stevens had written poetry and exchanged sonnets with George Santayana, with whom he was close through much of his life. Many of his canonical works were written well after he turned fifty. According to the literary critic Harold Bloom, who called Stevens the "best and most representative" American poet of the time[19], no Western writer since Sophocles has had such a late flowering of artistic genius.

Stevens's first book of poetry, a volume of rococo inventiveness titled Harmonium, was published in 1923. He produced two more major books of poetry during the 1920s and 1930s and three more in the 1940s. He received the National Book Award in 1951[20] and 1955.[21]

Imagination and reality

Stevens, whose work was meditative and philosophical, is very much a poet of ideas.[19] “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully,”[22] he wrote. Concerning the relation between consciousness and the world, in Stevens's work "imagination" is not equivalent to consciousness nor is "reality" equivalent to the world as it exists outside our minds. Reality is the product of the imagination as it shapes the world. Because it is constantly changing as we attempt to find imaginatively satisfying ways to perceive the world, reality is an activity, not a static object. We approach reality with a piecemeal understanding, putting together parts of the world in an attempt to make it seem coherent. To make sense of the world is to construct a worldview through an active exercise of the imagination. This is no dry, philosophical activity, but a passionate engagement in finding order and meaning. Thus Stevens would write in The Idea of Order at Key West,

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.[23]

In his book Opus Posthumous, Stevens writes, “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption." [24] But as the poet attempts to find a fiction to replace the lost gods, he immediately encounters a problem: a direct knowledge of reality is not possible.

Stevens suggests that we live in the tension between the shapes we take as the world acts upon us and the ideas of order that our imagination imposes upon the world. The world influences us in our most normal activities: "The dress of a woman of Lhassa, / In its place, / Is an invisible element of that place / Made visible."[25] Likewise, were we to place a jar on a hill in Tennessee, we would impose an order onto the landscape.

As Stevens says in his essay "Imagination as Value", “The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them."[26] The imagination is the mechanism by which we unconsciously conceptualize the normal patterns of life, while reason is the way we consciously conceptualize these patterns.

The jar is a striking example of an order that does not feel a part of the land, and so seems to violate the existing order: “It did not give of bird or bush, / Like nothing else in Tennessee”.[27] Contrast this to the feeling one gets while looking over the water where boats are anchored in darkness, with lanterns hanging on poles, “Arranging, deepening, enchanting night”.[28] When the imagination is available to reality and does not try to force itself, reality becomes like a bar of sand onto which the imagination naturally washes and recedes.

The imagination can only conceive of a world for a moment—a particular time, place and culture—and so must continually revise its conception to align with the changing world. And as these worldviews come and go, each person is pulled in his or her normal life between the influence the world has on imagination and the influence imagination has on the way we view the world.

For this reason, the best we can hope for is a well-conceived fiction, satisfying for the moment, but sure to lapse into obsolescence as new imaginings wash over the world.

Supreme fiction

The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real. When it adheres to the unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect that it will ever have.[29]

Throughout his poetic career, Stevens was concerned with the question of what to think about the world now that our old notions of religion no longer suffice. His solution might be summarized by the notion of a “Supreme Fiction.” In this example from the satirical "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman," Stevens plays with the notions of immediately accessible, but ultimately unsatisfying, notions of reality:

Poetry is the supreme Fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms
Like windy citherns, hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.[30]

The saxophones squiggle because, as J. Hillis Miller says of Stevens in his book, Poets of Reality, the theme of universal fluctuation is a constant theme throughout Stevens poetry: "A great many of Stevens’ poems show an object or group of objects in aimless oscillation or circling movement.”[31] In the end, reality remains.

The supreme fiction is that conceptualization of reality that seems to resonate in its rightness, so much so that it seems to have captured, if only for a moment, something actual and real.

I am the angel of reality,
seen for a moment standing in the door.
...
I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again,
Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set,
And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone
Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings,
Like watery words awash;
...
an apparition appareled in
Apparels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone?[32]

In one of his last poems, "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour", Stevens describes the experience of an idea which satisfies the imagination, “This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. / It is in that thought that we collect ourselves, / Out of all the indifferences, into one thing.” This one thing is “a light, a power, the miraculous influence” wherein we can forget ourselves, sensing a comforting order, “A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous, / within its vital boundary, in the mind.”[33]

This knowledge necessarily exists within the mind, since it is an aspect of the imagination which can never attain a direct experience of reality.

We say God and the imagination are one . . .
How high that highest candle lights the dark.
Out of this same light, out of the central mind
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.[33]

Stevens concludes that God is a human creation, but that feeling of rightness which for so long a time existed with the idea of God may be accessed again. This supreme fiction will be something equally central to our being, but contemporary to our lives, in a way that God can never again be. But with the right idea, we may again find the same sort of solace that we once found in divinity. "[Stevens] finds, too, a definite value in the complete contact with reality. Only, in fact, by this stark knowledge can he attain his own spiritual self that can resist the disintegrating forces of life . . . . Powerful force though the mind is . . . it cannot find the absolutes. Heaven lies about the seeing man in his sensuous apprehension of the world . . .; everything about him is part of the truth." [34]

. . . Poetry
Exceeding music must take the place
Of empty heaven and its hymns,
Ourselves in poetry must take their place[35]

In this way, Stevens’s poems adopt attitudes that are corollaries to those earlier spiritual longings that persist in the unconscious currents of the imagination. “The poem refreshes life so that we share, / For a moment, the first idea . . . It satisfies / Belief in an immaculate beginning / And sends us, winged by an unconscious will, / To an immaculate end."[36] The "first idea" is that essential reality that stands before all others, that essential truth; but since all knowledge is contingent on its time and place, that supreme fiction will surely be transitory. This is the necessary angel of subjective reality—a reality that must always be qualified—and as such, always misses the mark to some degree—always contains elements of unreality.

Miller summarizes Stevens's position: "Though this dissolving of the self is in one way the end of everything, in another way it is the happy liberation. There are only two entities left now that the gods are dead: man and nature, subject and object. Nature is the physical world, visible, audible, tangible, present to all the senses, and man is consciousness, the nothing which receives nature and transforms it into something unreal . . . ."[37]

The role of poetry

Stevens often writes directly about poetry and its human function. The poet “tries by a peculiar speech to speak / The peculiar potency of the general, / To compound the imagination’s Latin with / The lingua franca et jocundissima.”[38] Moreover, “The whole race is a poet that writes down / The eccentric propositions of its fate.”[39] In a manner reminiscent of Wordsworth, Stevens saw the poet as one with heightened powers, but one who like all ordinary people continually creates and discards cognitive depictions of the world, not in solitude but in solidarity with other men and women.

These cognitive depictions find their outlet and their best and final form as words; and thus Stevens can say, "It is a world of words to the end of it, / In which nothing solid is its solid self."[40] In a poem called "Men Made out of Words," he says: "Life / Consists of propositions about life.”[39] Poetry is not about life, it is intimately a part of life. As Stevens wrote elsewhere, “The poem is the cry of its occasion, / Part of the res itself and not about it. / The poet speaks the poem as it is, // Not as it was.”[41] Modern poetry is “the poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice.”[42]

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. [43]

His poem An Ordinary Evening in New Haven is a self-conscious digression about the creation of poetry.[19]

We keep coming back and coming back
To the real: to the hotel instead of the hymns
That fall upon it out of the wind. We seek
The poem of pure reality, untouched
By trope or deviation, straight to the word,
Straight to the transfixing object, to the object
At the exactest point at which it is itself,
Transfixing by being purely what it is
A view of New Haven, say, through the certain eye,
The eye made clear of uncertainty, with the sight
Of simple seeing, without reflection. We seek
Nothing beyond reality.

To create a stage is, for Stevens, a metaphor for the need of modern poetry to make its own new arena or realm in which it should be presented and in which it can be understood. Modern poetry is like "an insatiable actor" because it continually must be in "the act of finding what will suffice." Stevens puns on the meaning of "act." In one sense, poetry is an act, learning the speech, meeting the women, facing the men, etc. In another sense, it is a dramatic performance meant to be heard by an audience, as it speaks words that echo in the mind of the listener. The audience is "invisible" in the sense that a poet rarely meets his or her readers. The typical reader picks up a book of poems and reads a poem or two, and the author never sees this happening. The reading of poetry is often a conversation between strangers. In this poem the two people are the actor that is the poem and the audience that is the listener, and their emotions should become "one." The poet should find the words that will speak to the delicatest ear of its modern listeners, echoing what it wants to hear but cannot articulate for itself. The poet, in the act of the poem, finds the sufficing words and for the audience and they allow the listeners to hear what is in their ear, their mind. As a result, the emotions of speaking and listening, of poet as actor and listeners as audience, should become one.

Reputation and influence

From the first, critics and fellow poets praised Stevens. Hart Crane wrote to a friend in 1919, after reading some of the poems that would make up Harmonium, "There is a man whose work makes most of the rest of us quail."[44] In the 1930s, the critic Yvor Winters criticized Stevens as a decadent hedonist but acknowledged his great talent. Beginning in the 1940s, critics such as Randall Jarrell spoke of Stevens as one of the major living American poets, even if they did so (as Jarrell did) with certain reservations about Stevens’s work. Stevens’s work became even better known after his death. Harold Bloom, Helen Vendler, and Frank Kermode are among the critics who have cemented Stevens’s position in the canon as a great poet. Many poets—James Merrill and Donald Justice most explicitly—have acknowledged Stevens as a major influence on their work, and his impact may also be seen in John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Jorie Graham, John Hollander, and others.

In 1977 David Hockney authored a book of etchings called "The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso". The book included the poetry of Wallace Stevens. The etchings were inspired by and were meant to represent the themes of Stevens's poem, "The Man With The Blue Guitar", which was inspired by a 1903 painting by Pablo Picasso titled "The Old Guitarist". It was published as a portfolio and as a book in spring 1997 by Petersburg Press.

Bibliography

Poetry

  • The Snowman (1921)
  • Harmonium (1923)
  • Ideas of Order (1936)
  • Owl's Clover (1936)
  • The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937)
  • Parts of a World (1942)
  • Transport to Summer (1947)
  • The Auroras of Autumn (1950)
  • Collected Poems (1954)
  • Opus Posthumous (1957)
  • The Palm at the End of the Mind (1972)
  • Collected Poetry and Prose (New York: The Library of America, 1997)
  • Selected Poems (John N. Serio, ed.) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

Prose

  • The Necessary Angel (essays) (1951)
  • Letters of Wallace James Stevens, edited by Holly Stevens (1966)
  • Secretaries of the Moon: The Letters of Wallace Stevens & Jose Rodriguez Feo, edited by Beverly Coyle and Alan Filreis (1986)
  • Sur plusieurs beaux sujets: Wallace Stevens's Commonplace Book, edited by Milton J. Bates (1989)
  • The Contemplated Spouse: The Letter of Wallace Stevens to Elsie, edited by D.J. Bluont(2006)

References

  1. ^ The Contemplated Spouse: The Letters of Wallace Stevens to Elsie Kachel", edited by J. Donald Blount (The University of South Carolina Press, 2006)
  2. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/books/review/Vendler-t.html?_r=1
  3. ^ Richardson, Joan. Wallace Stevens: The Later Years, 1923-1955, New York: Beech Tree Books, 1988, p. 22.
  4. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/books/review/Vendler-t.html?_r=1
  5. ^ Richardson, Joan. Wallace Stevens: The Early Years, 1879-1923, New York: Beech Tree Books, 1986, p. 276.
  6. ^ Richardson, The Early Years, supra, p. 424.
  7. ^ Richardson, The Early Years, supra, p. 445
  8. ^ Richardson, The Later Years, supra, p. 87.
  9. ^ Richardson, The Later Years, supra, p. 423.
  10. ^ Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens
  11. ^ The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens: "O Florida, Venereal Soil," "The Idea of Order at Key West," "Farewell to Florida"
  12. ^ Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961, ed. Carlos Baker
  13. ^ Robert Frost: A Life, by Jay Parini
  14. ^ Maria J. Cirurgião, “Last Farewell and First Fruits: The Story of a Modern Poet.” Lay Witness (June 2000).
  15. ^ Peter Brazeau, Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered, New York, Random House, 1983, p. 295
  16. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/books/review/Vendler-t.html?_r=1
  17. ^ [1][2][3]
  18. ^ Wallace Stevens (search results), Poetry Magazine.
  19. ^ a b c "Old New Haven", Juliet Lapidos, The Advocate, March 17, 2005
  20. ^ Richardson, The Later Years, supra, p. 378.
  21. ^ Richardson, The Later Years, supra, p. 420.
  22. ^ Stevens, Wallace. Collected Poetry and Prose, New York: Library of America, 1997 (Kermode, F., & Richardson, J., eds.), p. 306.
  23. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 106.
  24. ^ Stevens, Wallace. Opus Posthumous, London: Faber and Faber, 1990 (Milton J. Bates, ed.), p. 185.
  25. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 41.
  26. ^ Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination,Random House USA Paperbacks (Feb 1965) ISBN 978-0394702780
  27. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 61.
  28. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p.106
  29. ^ Stevens, The Necessary Angel, supra., p. 6.
  30. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 47.
  31. ^ Miller, J. Hillis. "Wallace Stevens." Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers, p. 226. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1966.
  32. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 423.
  33. ^ a b Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 444.
  34. ^ Southworth, James G. Some Modern American Poets, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1950, p. 92.
  35. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 136-37.
  36. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 330-31.
  37. ^ Miller, supra., p. 221
  38. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 343.
  39. ^ a b Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 310.
  40. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 301.
  41. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 404.
  42. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 218.
  43. ^ Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, supra, p. 218-19.
  44. ^ "Wallace Stevens: Biography and Recollections by Acquaintances," Modern American Poetry.

Further reading

  • Armstrong, Tim. "Player Piano: Poetry and Sonic Modernity" in Modernism/Modernity 14.1 (January 2007), 1-19.
  • Baird, James. The Dome and the Rock: Structure in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (1968)
  • Bates, Milton J. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self (1985)
  • Beckett, Lucy. Wallace Stevens (1974)
  • Beehler, Michael. T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and the Discourses of Difference (1987)
  • Benamou, Michel. Wallace Stevens and the Symbolist Imagination (1972)
  • Berger, Charles. Forms of Farewell: The Late Poetry of Wallace Stevens (1985)
  • Bevis, William W. Mind of Winter: Wallace Stevens, Meditation, and Literature (1988)
  • Blessing, Richard Allen. Wallace Stevens' "Whole Harmonium" (1970)
  • Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate (1980)
  • Borroff, Marie, ed. Wallace Stevens: A Collection of Critical Essays (1963)
  • Brazeau, Peter. Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered (1983)
  • Brogan, Jacqueline V. The Violence Within/The Violence Without: Wallace Stevens and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Poetics (2003)
  • Critchley, Simon. Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (2005)
  • Doggett, Frank. Stevens' Poetry of Thought (1966)
  • Kermode, Frank. Wallace Stevens (1960)
  • Grey, Thomas. The Wallace Stevens Case: Law and the Practice of Poetry Harvard University Press (1991)
  • Hockney, David. The Blue Guitar (1977)
  • Leggett, B.J. Early Stevens: The Nietzschean Intertext (1992)
  • Leonard, J.S. & Wharton, C.E. The Fluent Mundo: Wallace Stevens and the Structure of Reality (1988)
  • McCann, Janet. Wallace Stevens Revisited: The Celestial Possible (1996)
  • Vendler, Helen. On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems Harvard University Press (1969)
  • Vendler, Helen. Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen out of Desire Harvard University Press (1986)

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
One ought not to hoard culture. It should be adapted and infused into society as a leaven.

Wallace Stevens (2 October 18792 August 1955) was an American poet and businessman.

Contents

Sourced

How full of trifles everything is! It is only one’s thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture.
  • One ought not to hoard culture. It should be adapted and infused into society as a leaven. Liberality of culture does not mean illiberality of its benefits.
    • Journal entry (20 June 1899); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 3.
  • A diary is more or less the work of a man of clay whose hands are clumsy and in whose eyes there is no light.
    • Journal entry (26 July 1899); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 3.
  • Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise!
    • Journal entry (4 March 1906); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 8
  • In European thought in general, as contrasted with American, vigor, life and originality have a kind of easy, professional utterance. American — on the other hand, is expressed in an eager amateurish way. A European gives a sense of scope, of survey, of consideration. An American is strained, sensational. One is artistic gold; the other is bullion.
    • Journal entry (9 April 1906); as published in Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966) edited by Holly Stevens
  • To be young is all there is in the world. The rest is nonsense — and cant. They talk so beautifully about work and having a family and a home (and I do, too, sometimes) — but it’s all worry and head-aches and respectable poverty and forced gushing.... Telling people how nice it is, when, in reality, you would give all of your last thirty years for one of your first thirty. Old people are tremendous frauds.
    • Letter to his future wife Elsie Moll Kachel (21 March 1907); as published in Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 5
Take the moral law and make a nave of it And from the nave build haunted heaven...
  • How full of trifles everything is! It is only one’s thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture.
    • Letter to his future wife Elsie Moll Kachel (16 May 1907); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 9
  • Unfortunately there is nothing more inane than an Easter carol. It is a religious perversion of the activity of Spring in our blood.
    • Letter to his future wife, Elsie Moll Kachel (23 April 1916) as published in Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966) edited by Holly Stevens, No. 202
  • The day of the sun is like the day of a king. It is a promenade in the morning, a sitting on the throne at noon, a pageant in the evening.
    • Journal entry (20 April 1920); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 6
Palm for palm, Madame, we are where we began.
  • Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
    Take the moral law and make a nave of it
    And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
    The conscience is converted into palms,
    Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
    • "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" first published in The Dial No. 73 (July 1922)
  • We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
    The opposing law and make a peristyle,
    And from the peristyle project a masque
    Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
    Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
    Is equally converted into palms,
    Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
    Madame, we are where we began.
    • "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" (1922)
  • This will make widows wince. But fictive things
    Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.
    • "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman" (1922)
Everything is complicated; if that were not so, life and poetry and everything else would be a bore.
  • Everything is complicated; if that were not so, life and poetry and everything else would be a bore.
    • Letter (19 December 1935) as published in Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966) edited by Holly Stevens, (No. 336)
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds, As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming With the metaphysical changes that occur, Merely in living as and where we live.
  • If some really acute observer made as much of egotism as Freud has made of sex, people would forget a good deal about sex and find the explanation for everything in egotism.
    • Letter (10 January 1936); as published in Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966) edited by Holly Stevens, (No. 339)
  • One might have thought of sight, but who could think
    Of what it sees, for all the ill it sees?

    Speech found the ear, for all the evil sound,
    But the dark italics it could not propound.
    And out of what sees and hears and out
    Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
    So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
    As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
    With the metaphysical changes that occur,
    Merely in living as and where we live.
    • Esthétique du Mal (1944)
I am one of you and being one of you
Is being and knowing what I am and know.
Yet I am the necessary angel of earth...
  • I am the angel of reality,
    Seen for a moment standing in the door.
    • "Angel Surrounded by Paysans" (1949)
  • I am one of you and being one of you
    Is being and knowing what I am and know.
    Yet I am the necessary angel of earth,
    Since, in my sight, you see the earth again,
    Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set

    And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone
    Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings,
    Like watery words awash; like meanings said
    By repetitions of half-meanings. Am I not,
    Myself, only half a figure of a sort,
    A figure half seen, or seen for a moment, a man
    Of the mind, an apparition appareled in
    Apparels of such lightest look that a turn
    Of my shoulders and quickly, too quickly, I am gone?
    • "Angel Surrounded by Paysans" (1949)
Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates.
  • Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates. It is of the nature of that in which it is found, whether the poem, the manner of a god, the bearing of a man. It is not a dress.
    • "Two or Three Ideas" (1951); later published in Opus Posthumous (1959)
  • Success as a result of industry is a peasant ideal.
    • As quoted in "Ten Jack-Offs" in The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (1983) by Charles Bukowski
I like my philosophy smothered in beauty and not the opposite.
  • I like my philosophy smothered in beauty and not the opposite.
    • As quoted in Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing (2002) by by Bart Eeckhout Ch. 12 "Poeticizing Epistemology", p. 268
  • Poetry is an effort of a dissatisfied man to find satisfaction through words.
    • As quoted in Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing (2002) by by Bart Eeckhout Ch. 12 "Poeticizing Epistemology", p. 268
  • I placed a jar in Tennessee
    And round it was, upon a hill.

    It made the slovenly wilderness
    Surround that hill.
    The wilderness rose upon it,
    And sprawled around, no longer wild.
    • "Anecdote of the Jar"
  • It took dominion everywhere.
    The jar was gray and bare.
    It did not give of bird or bush,
    Like nothing else in Tennessee.
    • "Anecdote of the Jar"
The soul, he said, is composed Of the external world.
  • The soul, he said, is composed
    Of the external world.
    • "Anecdote of Men by the Thousand"
The dress of a woman of Lhassa, in its place is an invisible element of that place made visible.
  • There are men of the East, he said,
    who are the East.

    There are men of a province
    who are that province.
    There are men of a valley
    who are that valley.
    • "Anecdote of Men by the Thousand"
  • The dress of a woman of Lhassa,
    in its place
    is an invisible element of that place
    made visible.
    • "Anecdote of Men by the Thousand"

Peter Quince at the Clavier (1915)

Just as my fingers on these keys Make music, so the self-same sounds On my spirit make a music, too. Music is feeling, then, not sound.
First published in the magazine Others (1915), later included in Harmonium (1923)
I
  • Just as my fingers on these keys
    Make music, so the self-same sounds
    On my spirit make a music, too.
    Music is feeling, then, not sound
    ;
    And thus it is that what I feel,
    Here in this room, desiring you,
    Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
    Is music.
II
Beauty is momentary in the mind — The fitful tracing of a portal; But in the flesh it is immortal. The body dies; the body's beauty lives.
  • In the green water, clear and warm,
    Susanna lay.
    She searched
    The touch of springs,
    And found
    Concealed imaginings.
    She sighed,
    For so much melody.
  • Upon the bank, she stood
    In the cool
    Of spent emotions.
    She felt, among the leaves,
    The dew
    Of old devotions.
  • She walked upon the grass,
    Still quavering.
    The winds were like her maids,
    On timid feet,
    Fetching her woven scarves,
    Yet wavering.
Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings Of those white elders; but, escaping, Left only Death's ironic scraping.
  • A breath upon her hand
    Muted the night.
    She turned —
    A cymbal crashed,
    Amid roaring horns.
IV
  • Beauty is momentary in the mind —
    The fitful tracing of a portal;
    But in the flesh it is immortal.
    The body dies; the body's beauty lives.

    So evenings die, in their green going,
    A wave, interminably flowing.
    So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
    The cowl of winter, done repenting.
    So maidens die, to the auroral
    Celebration of a maiden's choral.
  • Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings
    Of those white elders; but, escaping,
    Left only Death's ironic scraping.
    Now, in its immortality, it plays
    On the clear viol of her memory,
    And makes a constant sacrament of praise.

Harmonium (1923)

One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough.
  • After the final no there comes a yes
    And on that yes the future world depends.

    No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
    • "The Well Dressed Man with a Beard"
I heard them cry — the peacocks.
I felt afraid. And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
  • One thing remaining, infallible, would be
    Enough.
    • "The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"
  • Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
    The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
    The aureole above the humming house...
    It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
    • "The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"
  • I heard them cry — the peacocks.
    Was it a cry against the twilight
    Or against the leaves themselves

    Turning in the wind,
    Turning as the flames
    Turned in the fire,
    Turning as the tails of the peacocks
    Turned in the loud fire,
    Loud as the hemlocks
    Full of the cry of the peacocks?
    Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?
    • "Domination of Black"
My candle burned alone in an immense valley. Beams of the huge night converged upon it, Until the wind blew.
  • I saw how the night came,
    Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks
    I felt afraid.
    And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
    • "Domination of Black"
  • My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
    Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
    Until the wind blew.

    Then beams of the huge night
    Converged upon its image,
    Until the wind blew.
    • "Valley Candle"
This is old song That will not declare itself...
  • Twenty men crossing a bridge,
    Into a village,
    Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
    Into twenty villages,
    Or one man
    Crossing a single bridge into a village.
    • "Metaphors of a Magnifico"
  • This is old song
    That will not declare itself...
    • "Metaphors of a Magnifico"
  • Twenty men crossing a bridge,
    Into a village,
    Are
    Twenty men crossing a bridge
    Into a village.
    • "Metaphors of a Magnifico"
  • The boots of the men clump
    On the boards of the bridge.
    The first white wall of the village
    Rises through fruit-trees.
    Of what was it I was thinking?
    So the meaning escapes.
    • "Metaphors of a Magnifico"
One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow...
  • One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow
    ;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

    • "The Snow Man"
Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
  • Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
    As they are used to wear, and let the boys
    Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
    Let be be finale of seem.
    The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
    • "The Emperor of Ice Cream" - Commentary on this poem at Modern American Poetry (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Take from the dresser of deal,
    Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
    On which she embroidered fantails once
    And spread it so as to cover her face.
    If her horny feet protrude, they come
    To show how cold she is, and dumb.
    Let the lamp affix its beam.
    The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
    • "The Emperor of Ice Cream"
Death is the mother of beauty.
  • Death is the mother of beauty
    • "Sunday Morning"
  • We live in an old chaos of the sun,
    Or an old dependency of day and night,
    Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
    Of that wide water, inescapable.

    Deer walk upon our mountains, and quail
    Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
    Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
    And, in the isolation of the sky,
    At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
    Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
    Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
    • "Sunday Morning"
  • That strange flower, the sun,
    Is just what you say.
    Have it your way.

    The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.

    • "Gubbinal"
  • That tuft of jungle feathers,
    That animal eye,
    Is just what you say.

    That savage of fire,
    That seed,
    Have it your way.

    The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.

    • "Gubbinal"
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
  • A man and a woman
    Are one.
    A man and a woman and a blackbird
    Are one.
    • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
  • I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.
    • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
  • O thin men of Haddam,
    Why do you imagine golden birds?
    Do you not see how the blackbird
    Walks around the feet
    Of the women about you?
    • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
  • I know noble accents
    And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
    But I know, too,
    That the blackbird is involved
    In what I know.
    • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
  • It was evening all afternoon.
    It was snowing
    And it was going to snow.
    The blackbird sat
    In the cedar-limbs.
    • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
A few things for themselves,
Florida, venereal soil,
Disclose to the lover.
  • Donna, donna, dark,
    Stooping in indigo gown
    And cloudy constellations,
    Conceal yourself or disclose
    Fewest things to the lover —
    A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit,
    A pungent bloom against your shade.
    • "O Florida, Venereal Soil"
  • Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns,
    Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous,
    Eliciting the still sustaining pomps
    Of speech which are like music so profound
    They seem an exaltation without sound.
  • These
    Are the music of meet resignation; these
    The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you
    To magnify, if in that drifting waste
    You are to be accompanied by more
    Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.
    • "On the Manner of Addressing Clouds"

Ideas of Order (1936)

  • She sang beyond the genius of the sea
    • "The Idea of Order at Key West"
  • The sun, that brave man,
    Comes through boughs that lie in wait,
    That brave man.

    Green and gloomy eyes
    In dark forms of the grass
    Run away.

    The good stars,
    Pale helms and spiky spurs,
    Run away.

    Fears of my bed,
    Fears of life and fears of death,
    Run away.

    That brave man comes up
    From below and walks without meditation,
    That brave man.

    • "The Brave Man"

The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937)

Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.
But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.
I
  • The man bent over his guitar,
    A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
    They said, "You have a blue guitar,
    You do not play things as they are."
    The man replied, "Things as they are
    Are changed upon the blue guitar."
    And they said then, "But play, you must,
    A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
    A tune upon the blue guitar
    Of things exactly as they are."
II
  • If to serenade almost to man
    Is to miss, by that, things as they are,
    Say that it is the serenade
    Of a man that plays a blue guitar.
IV
  • So that's life, then: things are they are?
    It picks its way on the blue guitar.
    A million people on one string?
    And all their manner in the thing,
    And all their manner, right and wrong,
    And all their manner, weak and strong?
    And that's life, then: things as they are,
    This buzzing of the blue guitar.
V
  • Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry,
    Of the torches wisping in the underground,
    Of the structure of vaults upon a point of light.

    There are no shadows in our sun,
    Day is desire and night is sleep.
    There are no shadows anywhere.
    The earth, for us, is flat and bare.
    There are no shadows.
VI
  • The thinking of art seems final when
    The thinking of god is smoky dew.
VII
  • It is the sun that shares our works.
    The moon shares nothing. It is a sea.
    When shall I come to say of the sun,
    It is a sea; it shares nothing;
    The sun no longer shares our works
    And the earth is alive with creeping men,
    Mechanical beetles never quite warm?
    And shall I then stand in the sun, as now
    I stand in the moon, and call it good,
    The immaculate, the merciful good,
    Detached from us, from things as they are?
    Not to be part of the sun? To stand
    Remote and call it merciful?
    The strings are cold on the blue guitar.
VIII
  • Struggling toward impassioned choirs,
    Crying among the clouds, enraged
    By gold antagonists in air —
    I know my lazy, leaden twang
    Is like the reason in a storm;
    And yet it brings the storm to bear.
    I twang it out and leave it there.
IX
  • And the color, the overcast blue
    Of the air, in which the blue guitar
    Is a form, described but difficult,
    And I am merely a shadow hunched
    Above the arrowy, still string,
    The maker of a thing yet to be made;
    The color like a thought that grows
    Out of a mood, the tragic robe
    Of the actor, half his gesture, half
    His speech, the dress of his meaning, silk
    Sodden with his melancholy words,
    The weather of his stage, himself.
X
  • Behold
    The approach of him whom none believes,
    Whom all believe that all believe,
    A pagan in a varnished car.
XI
  • Slowly the ivy on the stones
    Becomes the stones. Women become
    The cities, children become the fields
    And men in waves become the sea.
  • The sea returns upon the men,
    The fields entrap the children, brick
    Is a weed and all the flies are caught,
    Wingless and withered, but living alive.
    The discord merely magnified.
    Deeper within the belly's dark
    Of time, time grows upon the rock.
XII
  • The blue guitar
    And I are one.
  • I know that timid breathing. Where
    Do I begin and end? And where,
    As I strum the thing, do I pick up
    That which momentously declares
    Itself not to be I and yet
    Must be. It could be nothing else.
XIII
  • Be content
    Expansions, diffusions — content to be
    The unspotted imbecile revery,
    The heraldic center of the world
    Of blue, blue sleek with a hundred chins,
    The amorist Adjective aflame...
XIV
  • First one beam, then another, then
    A thousand are radiant in the sky.
    Each is both star and orb; and day
    Is the riches of their atmosphere.
  • A candle is enough to light the world.
    It makes it clear. Even at noon
    It glistens in essential dark.
    At night, it lights the fruit and wine,
    The book and bread, things as they are...
Things as they are have been destroyed.
Have I? Am I a man that is dead
At a table on which the food is cold?
XV
  • Things as they are have been destroyed.
    Have I? Am I a man that is dead
    At a table on which the food is cold?
    Is my thought a memory, not alive?
    Is the spot on the floor, there, wine or blood
    And whichever it may be, is it mine?
XVI
  • Place honey on the altars and die,
    You lovers that are bitter at heart.
XIX
  • That I may reduce the monster to
    Myself, and then may be myself
    In face of the monster, be more than part
    Of it, more than the monstrous player of
    One of its monstrous lutes, not be
    Alone, but reduce the monster and be,
    Two things, the two together as one,
    And play of the monster and of myself,
    Or better not of myself at all,
    But of that as its intelligence,
    Being the lion in the lute
    Before the lion locked in stone.
XX
  • What is there in life except one's ideas.
    Good air, good friend, what is there in life?
    Is it ideas that I believe?
XXI
  • A substitute for all the gods:
    This self, not that gold self aloft,
    Alone, one's shadow magnified,
    Lord of the body, looking down,
    As now and called most high,
    The shadow of Chocorua
    In an immenser heaven, aloft,
    Alone, lord of the land and lord
    Of the men that live in the land, high lord.
    One's self and the mountains of one's land,
    Without shadows, without magnificence,
    The flesh, the bone, the dirt, the stone.
XXII
  • Poetry is the subject of the poem,
    From this the poem issues and
    To this returns. Between the two,
    Between issue and return, there is
    An absence in reality,
    Things as they are. Or so we say.
    But are these separate?
XXIV
What is beyond the cathedral, outside,
Balances with nuptial song.
  • I play. But this is what I think.
XXVI
  • The swarm of thoughts, the swarm of dreams
    Of inaccessible Utopia.
    A mountainous music always seemed
    To be falling and to be passing away.
XXVII
  • It is the sea that whitens the roof.
    The sea drifts through the winter air.
    It is the sea that the north wind makes.
    The sea is in the falling snow.
    This gloom is the darkness of the sea.
XXVIII
  • I am a native in this world
    And think in it as a native thinks
  • The wind in which the dead leaves blow.
    Here I inhale profounder strength
    And as I am, I speak and move
    And things are as I think they are
    And say they are on the blue guitar.
XXIX
  • What is beyond the cathedral, outside,
    Balances with nuptial song.

    So it is to sit and to balance things
    To and to and to the point of still,
    To say of one mask it is like,
    To say of another it is like,
    To know that the balance does not quite rest,
    That the mask is strange, however like.
XXXII
  • Throw away the lights, the definitions,
    And say of what you see in the dark
    That it is this or that it is that,
    But do not use the rotted names.

    How should you walk in that space and know
    Nothing of the madness of space,
    Nothing of its jocular procreations?
    Throw the lights away. Nothing must stand
    Between you and the shapes you take
    When the crust of shape has been destroyed.
XXXIII
  • Here is the bread of time to come,
    Here is its actual stone.
    The bread
    Will be our bread, the stone will be
    Our bed and we shall sleep by night.
    We shall forget by day, except
    The moments when we choose to play
    The imagined pine, the imagined jay.

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1942)

Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea Of this invention, this invented world, The inconceivable idea of the sun.

It Must Be Abstract

Phoebus was A name for something that never could be named. There was a project for the sun and is.
I
  • Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
    Of this invention, this invented world,
    The inconceivable idea of the sun.

    You must become an ignorant man again
    And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
    And see it clearly in the idea of it.

    Never suppose an inventing mind as source
    Of this idea nor for that mind compose
    A voluminous master folded in his fire.

  • The death of one god is the death of all.
  • Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was
    A name for something that never could be named.
    There was a project for the sun and is.

    There is a project for the sun. The sun
    Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be
    In the difficulty of what it is to be.

II
Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation.
  • So poisonous

    Are the ravishments of truth, so fatal to
    The truth itself, the first idea becomes
    The hermit in a poet’s metaphors
    ,

    Who comes and goes and comes and goes all day.

  • The monastic man is an artist.The philosopher
    Appoints man’s place in music, say, today.
    But the priest desires. The philosopher desires.

    And not to have is the beginning of desire.
    To have what is not is its ancient cycle.

III
The first idea was not our own.
  • The poem refreshes life so that we share,
    For a moment, the first idea
    . . . It satisfies
    Belief in an immaculate beginning

    And sends us, winged by an unconscious will,
    To an immaculate end.

  • The poem, through candor, brings back a power again
    That gives a candid kind to everything.
  • Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation.
IV
There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.
  • The first idea was not our own. Adam
    In Eden was the father of Descartes
    And eve made air the mirror of herself,

    Of her sons and of her daughters.

We are the mimics. Clouds are pedagogues.
  • The clouds preceded us.

    There was a muddy centre before we breathed.
    There was a myth before the myth began,
    Venerable and articulate and complete.

    From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
    That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
    And hard it is in spire of blazoned days.

  • We are the mimics. Clouds are pedagogues.
  • Abysmal instruments make sounds like pips
    Of the sweeping meanings that we add to them.
V
  • Yet voluble of dumb violence. You look
    Across the roofs as sigil and as ward
    And in your centre mark them and are cowed . . .
VI
It must be visible or invisible, Invisible or visible or both: A seeing and unseeing in the eye.
  • Not to be realized because not to
    Be seen, not to be loved nor hated because
    Not to be realized.
  • Without a name and nothing to be desired,
    If only imagined but imagined well.
  • My house has changed a little in the sun.
    The fragrance of the magnolias come close,
    False flick, false form, but falseness close to kin.
  • It must be visible or invisible,
    Invisible or visible or both:
    A seeing and unseeing in the eye.

    The weather and the giant of the weather,
    Say the weather, the mere weather, the mere air:
    An abstraction blooded, as a man by thought.

VII
Perhaps The truth depends on a walk around a lake...
  • Perhaps
    The truth depends on a walk around a lake
    ,

    A composing as the body tires, a stop
    To see hepatica, a stop to watch
    A definition growing certain and

    A wait within that certainty, a rest
    In the swags of pine-trees bordering the lake.
    Perhaps there are times of inherent excellence

Perhaps there are moments of awakening, Extreme, fortuitous, personal, in which We more than awaken...
  • As a man and woman meet and love forthwith.
    Perhaps there are moments of awakening,
    Extreme, fortuitous, personal, in which

    We more than awaken, sit on the edge of sleep,
    As on an elevation, and behold
    The academies like structures in a mist.

VIII
The first idea is an imagined thing.
  • The first idea is an imagined thing.
  • Logos and logic, crystal hypothesis,
    Incipit and a form to speak the word
    And every latent double in the word,

    Beau linguist.

  • He might take habit, whether from wave or phrase,

    Or power of the wave, or deepened speech,
    Or a leaner being, moving in on him,
    Of greater aptitude and apprehension,

    As if the waves at last were never broken,
    As if the language suddenly, with ease,
    Said things it had laboriously spoken.

IX
Apotheosis is not The origin of the major man.
  • The romantic intoning, the declaimed clairvoyance
    Are parts of apotheosis, appropriate
    And of its nature, the idiom thereof.
  • Apotheosis is not
    The origin of the major man.
    He comes,

    Compact in invincible foils, from reason,
    Lighted at midnight by the studious eye,
    Swaddled in revery, the object of

    The hum of thoughts evaded in the mind...

Give him No names. Dismiss him from your images. The hot of him is purest in the heart.
  • My dame, sing for this person accurate songs.
  • He is and may be but oh! He is, he is,
    This foundling of the infected past, so bright,
    So moving in the manner of his hand.

    Yet look not at his colored eyes. Give him
    No names. Dismiss him from your images.
    The hot of him is purest in the heart.

X
It is of him, ephebe, to make, to confect The final elegance, not to console Nor sanctify, but plainly to propound.
  • The major abstraction is the idea of man
    And major man is its exponent, abler
    In the abstract than in his singular,

    More fecund as principle than particle

  • In being more than an exception, part,

    Though an heroic part, of the commonal.
    The major abstraction is the commonal,
    The inanimate, difficult visage.

  • What chieftain, walking by himself, crying
    Most miserable, most victorious,

    Does not see these separate figures one by one,
    And yet see only one
    , in his old coat,
    His slouching pantaloons, beyond the town,

    Looking for what was, where it used to be?

  • It is of him, ephebe, to make, to confect
    The final elegance, not to console
    Nor sanctify, but plainly to propound.

It Must Change

The seraph Is satyr in Saturn, according to his thoughts.
I
  • The old seraph, parcel-gilded, among violets
    Inhaled the appointed odor, while the doves
    Rose up like phantoms from chronologies.
  • The bees came booming as if they had never gone,
    As if hyacinths had never gone. We say
    This changes and that changes. Thus the constant

    Violets, doves, girls, bees and hyacinths
    Are inconstant objects of inconstant cause
    In a universe of inconstancy.
    This means

    Night-blue is an inconstant thing. The seraph
    Is satyr in Saturn, according to his thoughts.

II
  • The President ordains the bee to be
    Immortal. The President ordains.
  • The President has apples on the table
    And barefoot servants round him, who adjust
    The curtains to a metaphysical "t"
  • Should there be a question of returning or
    Of death in memory’s dream? Is spring a sleep?

    This warmth is for lovers at last accomplishing
    Their love, this beginning, not resuming, this
    Booming and booming of the new-come bee.

III
Two things of opposite natures seem to depend On one another, as a man depends On a woman, day on night, the imagined On the real.
  • The right, uplifted foreleg of the horse
    Suggested that, at the final funeral,
    The music halted and the horse stood still.
  • Nothing had happened because nothing had changed.
    Yet the General was rubbish in the end.
IV
Music falls on the silence like a sense, A passion that we feel, not understand.
  • Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
    On one another, as a man depends
    On a woman, day on night, the imagined

    On the real. This is the origin of change.
    Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
    And forth the particulars of rapture come.

  • Music falls on the silence like a sense,
    A passion that we feel, not understand.
The partaker partakes of that which changes him.
  • In solitude the trumpets of solitude
    Are not of another solitude resounding;
    A little string speaks for a crowd of voices.
  • The partaker partakes of that which changes him.
    The child that touches takes character from the thing,
    The body, it touches. The captain and his men

    Are one and the sailor and the sea are one.

V
  • On a blue island in a sky-wide water
    The wild orange trees continued to bloom and to bear,
    Long after the planter’s death.
  • An unaffected man in a negative light
    Could not have borne his labor nor have died
    Sighing that he should leave the banjo’s twang.
VI
There was such idiot minstrelsy in rain,
So many clappers going without bells,
That these bethous compose a heavenly gong.
  • Bethou me, said sparrow, to the crackled blade,
    And you, and you, bethou me as you blow,
    When in my coppice you behold me be.
Bethou him, you
And you, bethou him and bethou. It is
A sound like any other. It will end.
  • There was such idiot minstrelsy in rain,
    So many clappers going without bells,
    That these bethous compose a heavenly gong.

    One voice repeating, one tireless chorister,
    The phrases of a single phrase, ke-ke,
    A single text, granite monotony

  • Eye without lid, mind without any dream —

    These are of minstrels lacking minstrelsy,
    Of an earth in which the first leaf is the tale
    Of leaves, in which the sparrow is a bird

    Of stone, that never changes. Bethou him, you
    And you, bethou him and bethou. It is
    A sound like any other. It will end.

VII
  • Tonight the lilacs magnify
    The easy passion, the ever-ready love
    Of the lover that lies within us and we breathe

    An odor evoking nothing, absolute.
    We encounter in the dead middle of the night
    The purple odor, the abundant bloom.

  • The fluctuations of certainty, the change
    Of degrees of perception in the scholar’s dark.
VIII
A fictive covering Weaves always glistening from the heart and mind.
  • I am the spouse. She took her necklace off
    And laid it in the sand. As I am, I am
    The spouse.
    She opened her stone-studded belt.

    I am the spouse, divested of bright gold,
    The spouse beyond emerald or amethyst,
    Beyond the burning body that I bear.

    I am the woman stripped more nakedly
    Than nakedness, standing before an inflexible
    Order, saying I am the contemplated spouse.

  • Clothe me entire in the final filament,
    So that I tremble with such love so known
    And myself am precious for your perfecting.
  • A fictive covering
    Weaves always glistening from the heart and mind.
IX
  • The poem goes form the poet’s gibberish to
    The gibberish of the vulgate and back again.
  • Is there a poem that never reaches words

    And one that chaffers the time away?
    Is the poem both peculiar and general?
    There’s a meditation there, in which there seems

    To be an evasion, a thing not apprehended or
    Not apprehended well. Does the poet
    Evade us, as in a senseless element?

  • He tries by a peculiar speech to speak

    The peculiar potency of the general

IX
The west wind was the music, the motion, the force To which the swans curveted, a will to change, A will to make iris frettings on the blank.
  • Like a page of music, like an upper air,
    Like a momentary color, in which swans
    Were seraphs, were saints, were changing essences.

    The west wind was the music, the motion, the force
    To which the swans curveted, a will to change,
    A will to make iris frettings on the blank.

The casual is not Enough. The freshness of transformation is The freshness of a world.
  • The casual is not Enough. The freshness of transformation is

    The freshness of a world. It is our own,
    It is ourselves, the freshness of ourselves,
    And that necessity and that presentation

    Are rubbings of a glass in which we peer.

  • Of these beginnings, gay and green, propose
    The suitable amours. Time will write them down.

It Must Give Pleasure

These are not things transformed. Yet we are shaken by them as if they were.
I
  • To speak of joy and to sing of it, borne on
    The shoulders of joyous men, to feel the heart
    That is the common, the bravest fundament,

    This is a facile exercise

  • The difficultest rigor is forthwith,
    On the image of what we see, to catch from that
    Irrational moment its unreasoning
    ,
    As when the sun comes rising, when the sea
    Clears deeply, when the moon hangs on the wall

    Of heaven-haven. These are not things transformed.
    Yet we are shaken by them as if they were.

    We reason about them with a later reason.

II
  • The blue woman, linked and lacquered, at her window
    Did not desire that feathery argentines
    Should be cold silver, neither that frothy clouds

    Should foam, be foamy waves, should move like them

  • It was enough for her that she remembered.
III
Children in love with them brought early flowers
And scattered them about, no two alike.
  • Red-in-red repetitions never going
    Away,a little rusty, a little rouged,
    A little roughened and ruder, a crown

    The eye could not escape, a red renown
    Blowing itself upon the tedious ear.

  • A dead shepherd brought tremendous chords from hell

    And bad the sheep carouse. Or so they said.
    Children in love with them brought early flowers
    And scattered them about, no two alike.

IV
We reason of these things with later reason And we make of what we see, what we see clearly And have seen, a place dependent on ourselves.
  • We reason of these things with later reason
    And we make of what we see, what we see clearly
    And have seen, a place dependent on ourselves.
  • This was their ceremonial hymn: Anon
    We loved but would no marriage make. Anon
    The one refused the other one to take,

    Foreswore the sipping of the marriage wine.

  • Each must the other take as sign, short sign
    To stop the whirlwind, balk the elements.
  • They married well because the marriage-place
    Was what they loved. It was neither heaven nor hell.
    They were love’s characters come face to face.
V
  • The words they spoke were voices that she heard.
    She looked at them and saw them as they were
    And what she felt fought off the barest phrase.
VI
It was not a choice Between, but of. He chose to include the things That in each other are included, the whole, The complicate, the amassing harmony.
  • The nothingness was a nakedness, a point,

    Beyond which fact could not progress as fact.
    Thereon the learning of the man conceived
    Once more night’s pale illuminations, gold

    Beneath, far underneath, the surface of
    His eye and audible in the mountain of
    His ear, the very material of his mind.

  • Straight to the utmost crown of night he flew.
    The nothingness was a nakedness, a point

    Beyond which thought could not progress as thought.
    He had to choose. But it was not a choice
    Between excluding things. It was not a choice

    Between, but of. He chose to include the things
    That in each other are included, the whole,
    The complicate, the amassing harmony.

VII
To find the real, To be stripped of every fiction except one, The fiction of an absolute — Angel, Be silent in your luminous cloud and hear The luminous melody of proper sound.
  • He imposes orders as he thinks of them,
    As the fox and snake do. It is a brave affair.
  • But to impose is not
    To discover.
    To discover an order as of
    A season, to discover summer and know it,

    To discover winter and know it well, to find
    Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
    Out of nothing to have come on major weather,

    It is possible, possible, possible. It must
    Be possible. It must be that in time
    The real will from its crude compoundings come,

    Seeming at first, a beast disgorged, unlike,
    Warmed by a desperate milk. To find the real,
    To be stripped of every fiction except one,

    The fiction of an absolute — Angel,
    Be silent in your luminous cloud and hear
    The luminous melody of proper sound.

VIII
There is a month, a year, there is a time In which majesty is a mirror of the self...
  • What am I to believe? If the angel in his cloud,
    Serenely gazing at the violent abyss,
    Plucks on his strings to pluck abysmal glory,

    Leaps downward through evening’s revelations, and
    On his spredden wings, needs nothing but deep space,
    Forgets the gold centre, the golden destiny,

    Grows warm in the motionless motion of his flight,
    Am I that imagine this angel less-satisfied?
    Are the wings his, the lapis-haunted air?

  • Is it he or is it I that experience this?
  • There is a month, a year, there is a time
    In which majesty is a mirror of the self:
    I have not but I am and as I am, I am.
  • These external regions, what do we fill them with
    Except reflections
IX
  • I can
    Do all that angels can.
    I enjoy like them,
    Like men besides, like men in light secluded,

    Enjoying angels.

Merely going round is a final good, The way wine comes at a table in a wood.
  • A thing final in itself and, therefore, good:
    One of the vast repetitions final in
    Themselves and, therefore, good,
    the going round

    And round and round, the merely going round,
    Until merely going round is a final good,
    The way wine comes at a table in a wood.

  • Perhaps,
    The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
    But he that of repetition is most master.
X
  • Fat girl, terrestrial, my summer, my night,
    How is it I find you in difference, see you there
    In a moving contour, a change not quite completed?

    You are familiar yet an aberration.

  • You remain the more than natural figure. You
    Become the soft-footed phantom, the irrational

    Distortion, however fragrant, however dear.
    That’s it: the more than rational distortion,
    The fiction that results from feeling. Yes, that.

  • They will get it straight one day at the Sorbonne.
    We shall return at twilight from the lecture
    Pleased that the irrational is rational,

    Until flicked by feeling, in a gildered street,
    I call you by name, my green, my fluent mundo.


  • Soldier, there is a war between the mind
    And sky, between thought and day and night.
    It is
    For that the poet is always in the sun,

    Patches the moon together in his room
    To his Virgilian cadences, up down,
    Up down. It is a war that never ends.

  • The soldier is poor without the poet’s lines,

    His petty syllabi, the sounds that stick,
    Inevitably modulating, in the blood.
    And war for war, each has its gallant kind.

    How simply the fictive hero becomes the real;
    How gladly with proper words the solider dies,
    If he must, or lives on the bread of faithful speech.

Parts of a World (1942)

  • That's what misery is,
    Nothing to have at heart.

    It is to have or nothing.

    It is a thing to have,
    A lion, an ox in his breast,
    To feel it breathing there.

    Corazon, stout dog,
    Young ox, bow-legged bear,
    He tastes its blood, not spit.

    He is like a man
    In the body of a violent beast.
    Its muscles are his own...

    The lion sleeps in the sun.
    Its nose is on its paws.
    It can kill a man.

    • "Poetry is a Destructive Force"
  • A. A violent order is disorder; and
    B. A great disorder is an order. These
    Two things are one.
    • "Connoisseur of Chaos"
  • Home from Guatemala, back at the Waldorf.
    This arrival in the wild country of the soul,
    All approaches gone, being completely there,
    Where the wild poem is a substitute
    For the woman one loves or ought to love,
    One wild rhapsody a fake for another.

    You touch the hotel the way you touch moonlight
    Or sunlight and you hum and the orchestra
    Hums and you say "The world in a verse,

    A generation sealed, men remoter than mountains,
    Women invisible in music and motion and color,"
    After that alien, point-blank, green and actual Guatemala.

    • "Arrival at the Waldorf"

Transport to Summer (1947)

  • Life consists
    Of propositions about life.
    The human
    Revery is a solitude in which
    We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

    By the terrible incantations of defeats
    And by the fear that the defeats and the dreams are one.

    The whole race is a poet that writes down
    The eccentric propositions of its fate.

    • "Men Made Out of Words"
  • If there must be a god in the house, must be,
    Saying things in the room and on the stair,

    Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
    Or moonlight, silently, as Plato's ghost

    Or Aristotle's skeleton. Let him hang out
    His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

    He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
    As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

    As color, even the closest to us, is;
    As shapes, though they portend us, are.

    It is the human that is the alien,
    The human that has no cousin in the moon.

    It is the human that demands his speech
    From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

    If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
    That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness

    A vermillioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
    Of which we are too distantly a part.

    • "Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit"
  • The house was quiet and the world was calm.
    The reader became the book; and summer night
    Was like the conscious being of the book.

    The house was quiet and the world was calm.
    The words were spoken as if there was no book,
    Except that the reader leaned above the page,
    Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
    The scholar to whom the book is true, to whom
    The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
    The house was quiet because it had to be.
    The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
    The access of perfection to the page.
    And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
    In which there is no other meaning, itself
    Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
    Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
    • "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm"

The Auroras of Autumn (1950)

Reality is the beginning not the end...
  • It is not in the premise that reality
    Is a solid.
    It may be a shade that traverses
    A dust, a force that traverses a shade.
    • "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"
  • Reality is the beginning not the end,
    Naked Alpha, not the hierophant Omega,
    Of dense investiture, with luminous vassals.
    • "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"

The Necessary Angel (1951)

The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination ISBN 0-394-70278-6
This may be a gross exaggeration of a very simple matter. But perhaps the same is true of many of the more prodigious things of life and death.
  • It may be dismissed, on the one hand, as a commonplace aesthetic satisfaction: and, on the other hand, if we say that the idea of God is merely a poetic idea, even if the supreme poetic idea, and that our notions of heaven and hell are merely poetry not so called, even if poetry that involves us vitally, the feeling of deliverance, of a release, of a perfection touched, of a vocation so that all men may know the truth and that the truth may set them free — if we say these things and if we are able to see the poet who achieved God and placed Him in His seat in heaven in all His glory, the poet himself, still in the ecstasy of the poem that completely accomplished its purpose, would have seemed, whether young or old, whether in rags or ceremonial robe, a man who needed what he had created, uttering the hymns of joy that followed his creation. This may be a gross exaggeration of a very simple matter. But perhaps the same is true of many of the more prodigious things of life and death.
    • "The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet"

Imagination as Value

The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real.
  • The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real. When it adheres to the unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect that it will ever have.
What light requires a day to do, and by day I mean a kind of Biblical revolution of time, the imagination does in the twinkling of an eye.
  • The best definition of true imagination is that it is the sum of our faculties. Poetry is the scholar's art. The acute intelligence of the imagination, the illimitable resources of its memory, its power to possess the moment it perceives — if we were speaking of light itself, and thinking of the relationship between objects and light, no further demonstration would be necessary . . . What light requires a day to do, and by day I mean a kind of Biblical revolution of time, the imagination does in the twinkling of an eye. It colors, increases, brings to a beginning and end, invents languages, crushes men, and, for that matter, gods in its hands, it says to women more than it is possible to say, it rescues all of us from what we have called absolute fact...
Poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of imagination.
  • For the poet, the imagination is paramount, and . . . he dwells apart in his imagination, as the philosopher dwells in his reason, and as the priest dwells in his belief ... The imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things."
  • The operation of the imagination in life is more significant than its operation in or in relation to works of art... in life what is important is the truth as it is, while in arts and letters what is important is truth as we see it.
  • What the poet has in mind . . . is that poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of imagination. The poet tries to exemplify it, in part as I have tried to exemplify it here, by identifying it with an imaginative activity that diffuses itself throughout our lives.
  • The imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos.
  • The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them. If this is true, then reason is simply the methodizer of the imagination.
  • The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.
  • The paramount relation between poetry and painting today, between modern man and modern art, is simply this: that in an age in which disbelief is so profoundly prevalent or, if not disbelief, indifference to questions of belief, poetry and painting, and the arts in general, are, in their measure, a compensation for what has been lost. Men feel that the imagination is the next greatest power to faith: the reigning prince.
  • Our own time, and by this I mean the last two or three generations, including our own, can be summed up in a way that brings into unity an immense number of details by saying of it that it is a time in which the search for the supreme truth has been a search in reality or through reality or even a search for some supremely acceptable fiction.

Collected Poems (1954)

We accept what is as good. The utmost must be good and is…
  • At the earliest ending of winter,
    In March, a scrawny cry from outside
    Seemed like a sound in his mind.
    He knew that he heard it,
    A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
    In the early March wind.
    • "Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself"
  • That scrawny cry — It was
    A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
    It was part of the colossal sun,
    Surrounded by its choral rings,
    Still far away. It was like
    A new knowledge of reality.
    • "Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself"
Let’s see the very thing and nothing else.
Let’s see it with the hottest fire of sight.
  • One of the limits of reality
    Presents itself in Oley when the hay,
    Baked through long days, is piled in mows. It is
    A land too ripe for enigmas, too serene.…

    Things stop in that direction and since they stop
    The direction stops and we accept what is
    As good. The utmost must be good and is…
    • "Credences of Summer"
  • Let’s see the very thing and nothing else.
    Let’s see it with the hottest fire of sight.
    Burn everything not part of it to ash.
    Trace the gold sun about the whitened sky
    Without evasion by a single metaphor.
    Look at it in its essential barrenness
    And say this, this is the centre that I seek.
    • "Credences of Summer"
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.
  • Exile desire
    For what is not. This is the barrenness
    Of the fertile thing that can attain no more.
    • "Credences of Summer"
  • Light the first light of evening, as in a room
    In which we rest and, for small reason, think
    The world imagined is the ultimate good.
    • "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"
  • This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
    It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
    Out of all the indifferences, into one thing
    • "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"
  • We say God and the imagination are one...
    How high that highest candle lights the dark.

    Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
    We make a dwelling in the evening air,
    In which being there together is enough.
    • "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"

Opus Posthumous (1955)

  • After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.
  • To see the gods dispelled in mid-air and dissolve like clouds is one of the great human experiences. It is not as if they had gone over the horizon to disappear for a time; nor as if they had been overcome by other gods of greater power and profounder knowledge. It is simply that they came to nothing.

Adagia

The imagination is one of the forces of nature.
  • A grandiose subject is not an assurance of a grandiose effect but, most likely, of the opposite.
  • Sentimentality is a failure of feeling.
  • A poem should be a part of one's sense of life.
  • A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.
  • All history is modern history.
  • Poetry is a purging of the world's poverty and change and evil and death. It is a present perfecting, a satisfaction in the irremediable poverty of life.
  • The imagination is one of the forces of nature.
  • To have nothing to say and to say it in a tragic manner is not the same thing as having something to say.
  • Man is an eternal sophomore.
  • The poet is a god, or, the young poet is a god. The old poet is a tramp.
  • To a large extent, the problems of poets are the problems of painters, and poets must often turn to the literature of painting for a discussion of their own problems.
  • God is in me or else is not at all (does not exist).
  • The world is a force not a presence.
  • Poetry is a search for the inexplicable.

Quotes about Stevens

Post-religious man, as Stevens saw him, still had a deep need for the kind of exaltation of the body and spirit which goes under different names in different religions — Christians call it grace... ~ Justin Quinn
Contrary to all appearances, to the difficulty of his verse, and to the preoccupied, distracted interpretations of contemporary critics, Wallace Stevens' poetry is a profoundly spiritual force. Anyone interested in the spiritual problems of modern humans must reckon with it. ~ Dana Wilde
  • Post-religious man, as Stevens saw him, still had a deep need for the kind of exaltation of the body and spirit which goes under different names in different religions — Christians call it grace, that is, the feeling or knowledge that the workings of God are revealed to the individual, thus lifting him or her up to a state of ecstatic consciousness. ... For the romantics in general such moments of ecstasis in the midst of nature are experienced by the solitary imagination, and the bonds of society are cast away as unimportant. Stevens once said that the romantic is a falsification, and perhaps the reason for the comment was his feeling that such moments of ecstatic relation in the midst of nature had to be given a social and eventually political meaning, rather than remaining in the arena of the spirit. Stevens poetry then offers a pastoral romantic ecstasis that become the occasions for searching out the relations between the individual, his or her community and the natural world.
  • I turn now
    not to the Bible
    but to Wallace Stevens
    • R. S. Thomas, in "Homage to Wallace Stevens" in No Truce with the Furies (1995)
  • Blessings, Stevens;
    I stand with my back to grammar
    At an altar you never aspired
    to, celebrating the sacrament
    of the imagination whose high-priest
    notwithstanding you are.
    • R. S. Thomas, in "Homage to Wallace Stevens" in No Truce with the Furies (1995)
  • At the heart of many of Stevens's poems are harsh and unpalatable experiences revealed only gradually through his intense stylization.
    • Helen Vendler, in The Columbia History of American Poetry (1993) edited by Jay Parini and Brett Candlish Millier
  • Stevens' way of informing us comes in language and imagery so radically different from previous times that it is difficult to recognize exactly what he means. But throughout his poetry he speaks, like the mystics, primarily of the nature of our relationship with the universe. He continually circles back to the idea that we actively participate in what the world looks like and what it means. Although cast in modern terms, this idea is profoundly spiritual and moral.
    Since he gives no evidence of any direct visionary experience, it's not possible to say Stevens is a "mystic" or a "contemplative" poet. But he is a major figure in modern poetry because he synthesizes the concerns of the modern world — the emphasis on the human self as maker of meaning, the emphasis on scientific rationality, the emphasis on creating new forms to replace outmoded beliefs — with the perennial concerns of the human spirit. To find meaning, or the good — or by implication, God — we need to radically adjust our conception of reality. This takes powerful acts of individual imagination, and the possibilities are immense... Contrary to all appearances, to the difficulty of his verse, and to the preoccupied, distracted interpretations of contemporary critics, Wallace Stevens' poetry is a profoundly spiritual force. Anyone interested in the spiritual problems of modern humans must reckon with it.

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