Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens Biography

Wallace Stevens was regarded as one of the most significant American poets of the 20th century. Stevens largely ignored the literary world and he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems (1954). In this work Stevens explored inside a profound philosophical framework the dualism between concrete reality and the human imagination. For most of his adult life, Stevens pursued contrasting careers as a insurance executive and a poet.

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, as the son of Garrett Barcalow Stevens, a prosperous country lawyer. His mother's family, the Zellers, were of Dutch origin. Stevens attended the Reading Boys' High School, and enrolled in 1893 at Harvard College. During this period Stevens began to write for the Harvand Advocate, Trend, and Harriet Monroe's magazine Poetry.

After leaving Harvard without degree in 1900, Stevens worked as a reporter for the New York Tribune. He then entered New York Law School, graduated in 1903, and was admitted to the bar next year.

Stevens worked as an attorney in several firms and in 1908 began working with the American Bonding Company. He married Elsie Kachel Moll, a shopgirl, from his home town; their daughter, Holly, was born in 1924.

Influenced by Ezra Pound, Stevens wrote 'Sunday Morning', his famous breakthrough work. It starts with 'coffee and oranges in a sunny chair' but ends with images of another reality, death, and universal chaos.

She hears, upon that water without soud,

A voice that cries: "The tomb in Palestine,

Is not the porch of spirits lingering;

It is the grave of Jesus, where He lay."

We live in an old chaos of the sun,

Or old dependency of day and night,

Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,

Of that wide water, inescapable.

(from Sunday Morning)

His first collection of verse was , Harmonium (1923), at the age of forty-four. Although it was well received by some reviewers, , it sold only 100 copies. Currently the collection is regarded as one of the great works of American poetry. Harmonium included 'The Emperor of the Ice Cream', one of Stevens's own favourite poems, 'Le Monocle de Mon Oncle', 'The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad', and 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird'.

In the mid-1910s Stevens moved to Connecticut, where he worked as a specialist in investment banking of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Insurance business took most of Stevens's time and he published very little. Stevens's next collection of poems, was published in 1935, and received mixed critics, with accusations of indifference to political and social tensions of the day from the Marxist journal New Masses. However, according to Joan Richardson's biography from 1988, Stevens was a closet socialist during the 1930's, but did not make his views a public issue In Owl’s Clover(1937) Stevens meditated on art and politics.

From the early 1940s Stevens entered a period of creativity that continued until his death in Hartford on August 2, in 1955. He turned gradually away from the playful use of language to a more reflective, though abstract style. Among his acclaimed poems were 'Notes toward a Supreme Fiction', 'The Auroras of Autumn', 'An Ordinary Evening in New Haven', and 'The Planet on the Table'.

Before gaining national fame as a poet Stevens enjoyed a high respect among his colleagues. His life as a corporate lawyer did not impede his creativity as a lyric poet.

In 1946 Stevens was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in 1950 he received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and in 1955 he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms;

But I know, too,

That the blackbird is involved

In what I know.

(from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

The Best Poem Of Wallace Stevens

The Emperor Of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
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.

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.

Wallace Stevens Comments

Fabrizio Frosini 30 October 2015

**who can tell me what the following lines from Wallace Stevens' “Montrachet-Le-Jardin” mean..? ? Thanks ** What is there to love than I have loved? And if there be nothing more, O bright, O bright, The chick, the chidder-barn and grassy chives And great moon, cricket-impresario, And, hoy, the impopulous purple-plated past, Hoy, hoy, the blue bulls kneeling down to rest.

228 2 Reply

I have looked up the word "chidder" And as far as I can tell Stevens made it up.

1 0 Reply
Lamont Palmer 01 February 2006

Stevens is quite possibly the greatest poet of the 20th century. His neologistic and beautiful words defy the limitations of the concrete world and explores the depths of the imagination. And the fact that he led a very quiet, uneventful life in CT, while creating his gorgeous poetry makes him even more fascinating. I think his reclusive life strengthened his work, intensified it. If not the greatest poet of them all, he was certainly the purest. His influence will forever be felt.

50 29 Reply
Richard Iordano 09 November 2009

Hi The Library of America volume of Stevens' collected poetry and prose page 311 -312,4th stanza reads, ' Wanted to lean, wnated much most to be...' I thought it was a very weird line. I looked here and of course you have it differently.'...wanted most to be. There is a typo in the Library of America vol? Are there any more? thanks and let me know

19 54 Reply
Richard Moores 15 May 2006

You have a serious punctuation error in the first stanza of Sunday Morning. The line, 'The day is like wide water, without sound.' should end in a comma, not a period. Thus: Complacencies of the peignoir, and late Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, And the green freedom of a cockatoo Upon a rug mingle to dissipate The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. She dreams a little, and she feels the dark Encroachment of that old catastrophe, As a calm darkens among water-lights. The pungent oranges and bright, green wings Seem things in some procession of the dead, Winding across wide water, without sound. The day is like wide water, without sound, Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet Over the seas, to silent Palestine, Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

26 42 Reply
Kathryn Horstmann 31 July 2020

I am looking for Steven´s poem: " Variations on a Summer Day" which he wrote in Maine in the 1930s. Thanks for helping me find it! Yours, Kathy

2 0 Reply
Leon Paul 26 September 2018

I want to read his poem Sunday Morning

4 1 Reply

I want to buy a book of poems, poems written by Wallace Stevens I want to buy an entire book of poems by Wallace Stevens

4 2 Reply
Fabrizio Frosini 14 February 2016

As I haven't found any translation of Wallace Stevens' “Montrachet-Le-Jardin”, even if it is so difficult to understand.. (a ''passage of whimsy and whimsical words''!) .. I'll try my own interpretation and give here a translation of the following 6 lines into Italian.. What is there to love than I have loved? And if there be nothing more, O bright, O bright, The chick, the chidder-barn and grassy chives And great moon, cricket-impresario, And, hoy, the impopulous purple-plated past, Hoy, hoy, the blue bulls kneeling down to rest. - ITALIAN: Cosa v'è da amare che non abbia amato? E se nient'altro vi fosse, o radioso, o radioso, Il pulcino, il fienile irreperibile e l’erba cipollina E la grande luna, impresario dei grilli, E, ohi, lo spopolato passato violaceo, Ohi, ohi, i tori azzurri che s'inginocchiano per riposare.

144 0 Reply
Fabrizio Frosini 06 January 2016

Wallace Stevens' answer to the questions ''What is a poet? Why does one write poetry? '': ''A poet writes poetry because he is a poet; and he is not a poet because he is a poet but because of his personal sensibility. What gives a man his personal sensibility I don't know and it doesn't matter because no one knows. Poets continue to be born not made and cannot, I'm afraid, be predetermined.''

195 1 Reply

Wallace Stevens Quotes

What our eyes behold may well be the text of life but one's meditations on the text and the disclosures of these meditations are no less a part of the structure of reality.

The genuine artist is never "true to life." He sees what is real, but not as we are normally aware of it. We do not go storming through life like actors in a play. Art is never real life.

To regard the imagination as metaphysics is to think of it as part of life, and to think of it as part of life is to realize the extent of artifice. We live in the mind.

Thought is an infection. In the case of certain thoughts, it becomes an epidemic.

One cannot spend one's time in being modern when there are so many more important things to be.

Yet there is no spring in Florida, neither in boskage perdu, nor on the nunnery beaches.

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.

One's ignorance is one's chief asset.

Most modern reproducers of life, even including the camera, really repudiate it. We gulp down evil, choke at good.

The philosopher proves that the philosopher exists. The poet merely enjoys existence.

It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.

Unfortunately there is nothing more inane than an Easter carol. It is a religious perversion of the activity of Spring in our blood.

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.

Everything is complicated; if that were not so, life and poetry and everything else would be a bore.

The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind, If one may say so.

All the great things have been denied and we live in an intricacy of new and local mythologies, political, economic, poetic, which are asserted with an ever-enlarging incoherence.

Democritus plucked his eye out because he could not look at a woman without thinking of her as a woman. If he had read a few of our novels, he would have torn himself to pieces.

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.

How full of trifles everything is! It is only one's thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture.

New York is a field of tireless and antagonistic interests—undoubtedly fascinating but horribly unreal. Everybody is looking at everybody else—a foolish crowd walking on mirrors.

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.

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.

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.

A poem need not have a meaning and like most things in nature often does not have.

How has the human spirit ever survived the terrific literature with which it has had to contend?

Perhaps it is of more value to infuriate philosophers than to go along with them.

Nothing could be more inappropriate to American literature than its English source since the Americans are not British in sensibility.

Wallace Stevens Popularity

Wallace Stevens Popularity

Close
Error Success