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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 (Alfred A. Knopf), 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 (The Alcestis Press, 1935), The Man With the Blue Guitar (Alfred A. Knopf, 1937), Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (The Cummington Press, 1942), and a collection of essays on poetry, The Necessary Angel (Alfred A. Knopf, 1951).

Stevens died in Hartford on August 2, 1955.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf, 1923)
Ideas of Order (The Alcestis Press, 1935)
Owl’s Clover (The Alcestis Press, 1936)
The Man With the Blue Guitar (Alfred A. Knopf, 1937)
Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (The Cummington Press, 1942)
Parts of a World (Alfred A. Knopf, 1942)
Esthétique du Mal (The Cummington Press, 1945)
Three Academic Pieces (The Cummington Press, 1947)
Transport to Summer (Alfred A. Knopf, 1947)
Primitive Like an Orb (Gotham Book Market, 1948)
Auroras of Autumn (Alfred A. Knopf, 1950)
Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1954)
Opus Posthumous (Alfred A. Knopf, 1957)
The Palm at the End of the Mind (Vintage Books, 1967)

Prose
The Necessary Angel (Alfred A. Knopf, 1951)

 

Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself

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.
 
The sun was rising at six, 
No longer a battered panache above snow . . . 
It would have been outside. 

It was not from the vast ventriloquism 
Of sleep's faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside. 

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.

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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
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.
poem
She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more
2
poem

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of