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Thread: Help: Wallace Stevens

  1. #1
    Registered User Comaros's Avatar
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    Sep 2015
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    Question Help: Wallace Stevens

    I recently bought a copy of Stevens' collected poems, and I have no idea how to read him. I've been able to appreciate other difficult modernist poets (Eliot, Crane, Pound), but Stevens puzzles me. I have some grasp of his major theme, the relation between the world and the imagination, and I've been able to appreciate a few of his poems, but, for the most part, I have no idea what he's saying. How should I approach his work?

  2. #2
    Registered User tailor STATELY's Avatar
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    May 2009
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    ... stop hunting for “meaning,” per se, and simply look at the poems as imaginative brain-clouds you get to ride along on.

    “Stevens’s poems force us, as great poems always do, to live in the occasion of their language — not simply to extract a ‘meaning’ from the language,” James Longenbach, a poet and the author of a book about Stevens, explained to me in an e-mail. “The point is not so much to understand the poems (for when we understand something, we don’t need it anymore, and we don’t read it again); the point is to inhabit the poems. By doing so, we recognize that our humanity is not constituted by our ‘mastery’ of something. It is constituted by our willingness to humble ourselves to the ‘mystery’ of something.”

    A .pdf with some insight that might help:

    Hoping others will chime in,

    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor STATELY

    who am I but a stitch in time
    what if I were to bare my soul
    would you see me origami


  3. #3
    Registered User Comaros's Avatar
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    Sep 2015
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    Thanks for the PDF! I'll have to read that in detail later.

    As for the New York Times piece... I dunno. That philosophy towards reading poetry is a bit foreign to me. Of course "living in the occasion" of a poem's meaning is a necessary part of reading, and Stevens' work constantly puts forth beautiful, euphonic language and striking phrases, but... without being able to extract any meaning or themes from the poems, I feel like they would be reduced to empty aesthetics. I don't know how long I could enjoy reading nonsense that happens to be beautiful.

    And the thing is, I have found meaning in some of his poems. I thought "Earthy Anecdote" was about the conflict between reality (bucks) and imagination (firecat), and I was able to follow the ideas of "Anecdote of the Jar" and "Jasmine's Beautiful Thoughts Underneath The Willow" at least somewhat. So, I feel like there is something more to be experienced than the article lets on.

    Still, I'll try to keep an open mind and read a few of his poems in the way Longenbach suggested.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2016
    Hello, I am writing an essay on Stevens' poetry right now and I found this quote by John N. Serio: "they see Stevens as a major poet because he addresses major themes: the relationship between the world and the mind, the beauty of planet Earth as an end in itself, poetry (or art in general) as an affirmation of life, the problem of belief in a secular age, the need for creating a sense of nobility in a crass and violent world."

    Can you point to some poems in which these themes are treated? The first one is obvious but how about, for example, poetry as an affirmation of life?

    Thank you very much!

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