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About this poet

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1879. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate from 1897 to 1900. He planned to travel to Paris as a writer, but after a working briefly as a reporter for the New York Herald Times, he decided to study law. He graduated with a degree from New York Law School in 1903 and was admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904. He practiced law in New York City until 1916.

Though he had serious determination to become a successful lawyer, Stevens had several friends among the New York writers and painters in Greenwich Village, including the poets William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings.

In 1914, under the pseudonym "Peter Parasol," he sent a group of poems under the title "Phases" to Harriet Monroe for a war poem competition for Poetry magazine. Stevens did not win the prize, but was published by Monroe in November of that year.

Stevens moved to Connecticut in 1916, having found employment at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., of which he became vice president in 1934. He had begun to establish an identity for himself outside the world of law and business, however, and his first book of poems, Harmonium, published in 1923, exhibited the influence of both the English Romantics and the French symbolists, an inclination to aesthetic philosophy, and a wholly original style and sensibility: exotic, whimsical, infused with the light and color of an Impressionist painting.

For the next several years, Stevens focused on his business life. He began to publish new poems in 1930, however, and in the following year, Knopf published an second edition of Harmonium, which included fourteen new poems and left out three of the decidedly weaker ones.

More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life.

Though now considered one of the major American poets of the century, he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems, just a year before his death. His major works include Ideas of Order (1935), The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942), and a collection of essays on poetry, The Necessary Angel (1951).

Stevens died in Hartford on August 2, 1955.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Harmonium (1923)
Ideas of Order (1935)
Owl's Clover (1936)
The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937)
Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942)
Parts of a World (1942)
Esthétique du Mal (1945)
Three Academic Pieces (1947)
Transport to Summer (1947)
Primitive Like an Orb (1948)
Auroras of Autumn (1950)
Collected Poems (1954)
Opus Posthumous (1957)
The Palm at the End of the Mind (1967)

Prose

The Necessary Angel (1951)

Plays

Three Travellers Watch the Sunrise (1916)
Carlos Among the Candles (1917)

The Plain Sense of Things

Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
 
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
 
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
 
Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
 
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Copyright © 2011 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted from Selected Poems with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted from Selected Poems with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens

Though he did not receive widespread recognition until late in his life, Wallace Stevens—whose work is known for its imagination, whimsy, and relation to both the English Romantics and French symbolists—is now considered one of the major American poets of the century. 

by this poet

poem
What syllable are you seeking,
Vocalissimus,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.
poem
Every time the bucks went clattering
Over Oklahoma
A firecat bristled in the way.

Wherever they went,
They went clattering,
Until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the right,
Because of the firecat.

Or until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the left,
Because of the firecat.

The bucks
poem
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.

This is old song
That will not declare itself . . .

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a village.