| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Wallace Stevens, the poet of lush word patterns and
evocative images, lived a circumspect daily life that contrasted dramatically
with the profession of poet. In his position as vice president of the Hartford
Accident and Indemnity Insurance Company, Stevens used his law degree for the
betterment of his field, and never mentioned to his associates that he was also
a poet. Even when his Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize and the National
Book Award, he remained first an insurance executive.
son of an attorney, Stevens was born and reared in Reading, Pennsylvania. He
attended Harvard for three years as a special student, studying languages and
publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. George Santayana befriended him
during that time. For a year he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, but he
did not enjoy journalism. He then entered the New York University Law School,
and in 1904 was admitted to the New York Bar and began to practice law. A partnership
failed; he worked in several firms and, in 1909, married Elsie Moll. His move
to the insurance field occurred in 1916.
Stevens began to publish his mature poems in Poetry and elsewhere in 1914, it
was 1923 before Harmonium, his first book, was published. Many of Stevens’s
best-known poems were included in that collection, but little notice of it was
taken until 1931, when it was reissued. Then Stevens published three
collections in quick succession, establishing himself as one of the most
skilled and original of America’s modernists. In 1946 he was chosen as a member
of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1950 he won the Bollingen
Prize for Poetry, and in 1955 both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the
National Book Award.
distinctively original poet, Stevens was not afraid to write about seemingly
“philosophical” subjects, even in a period when the modernist writers
concentrated on objects (and Williams said, “No ideas but in things”).
Stevens’s art was usually grounded in those things, however, and he called
himself a poet of the earth. He met the sometimes rigid demands of the
modernists, and yet preserved his own inclination to re-create beauty—the sheer
colors of a tropical landscape, the efflorescence of the ocean depths, the
stark icy silhouette of a snow-covered tree. For all his interest in
abstractions, Stevens was a highly visual poet. He was also the poet of
language as sounded speech, and many of his best poems are most effective when
read aloud. Stevens did not write from the point of view of a persona—either
himself or a disguised person—but he did write with such a true sense of
inflected speech that his line, his sound, were his own. “One must have a mind
of winter,” “The Snow Man” opens, and while the reader is not sure the speaking
voice is that of Stevens, he or she is convinced that it is the voice of some
observer or listener. Authenticity rather than personality marks Stevens’s
of Stevens’s poems are far from somber, although their meditative pace and
generally long lines suggest a seriousness that might turn dour. Instead, he
sparks parts of single poems (which are often lengthy) as well as entire
collections with comic touches. Like Roethke, Stevens sees with the childlike
eyes of innocence. Like Cummings, he was not afraid to share his vision with a
world that might have scoffed at its ingenuousness. All the joy and power of
language used at its best, and for a myriad of its best effects, is evident in
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the Heath Anthology
A High-Toned Old Christian Woman
Anecdote of the Jar
Peter Quince at the Clavier
The Snow Man
To the One of Fictive Music
Of Modern Poetry
The Course of a Particular
Of Mere Being
Ideas of Order
The Man with the Blue Guitar
Parts of a World
Transport to Summer
The Auroras of Autumn
The Necessary Angst
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Feigning with the Strange Unlike
Criticism and creative work inspired by Stevens.
Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens
A substantive resource, offering poetry texts, an audio reading of Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself, an active discussion list, Stevens-related artwork, and more.
The Academy of American Poets
A biography, several poetry texts, and links.
The Wallace Stevens Journal
An ideal portal to Stevens criticism, providing the tables of contents for all issues of the Journal.
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
An etext of In the Carolinas, a bibliography of secondary sources and links.
Michel Benamou, Wallace Stevens and the Symbolist Imagination, 1972
Harold Bloom, Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate, 1977
Robert Buttel, Wallace Stevens: The Making of "Harmonium," 1967
Alan Filreis, Wallace Stevens and the Actual World, 1992
Alan Filreis, Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism, 1994
Barbara M. Fisher, Wallace Stevens, The Intensest Rendezvouz, 1990
Mark Halliday, Stevens and the Impersonal, 1994
David Jarraway, Wallace Stevens and the Question of Belief, 1993
A. Walton Litz, Introspective Voyager: The Poetic Development of Wallace Stevens, 1972
Glen MacLeod, Wallace Stevens and Modern Art, 1993
Beverly Maeder, Wallace Stevens' Experimental Language: The Lion and the Lute, 1999
Janet McCann, Wallace Stevens Revisited: "The Celestial Possible," 1995
Samuel French Morse, Wallace Stevens: Poetry as Life, 1970
William Van O'Connor, The Shaping Spirit, 1950
Joan Richardson, Wallace Stevens, A Biography, 1986, 1989
Joseph N. Riddell, The Clairvoyant Eye: The Poetry and Poetics of Wallace Stevens, 1965
Robin G. Schulze, The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, 1995
Helen H. Vendler, On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems, 1969
Anthony Whiting, The Never-Resting Mind: Wallace Stevens' Romantic Irony, 1996