Biography of Wallace Stevens
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)
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Wallace Stevens Poems
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
1 Complacencies of the peignoir, and late Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
Disillusionment Of Ten O'Clock
The houses are haunted By white night-gowns. None are green, Or purple with green rings,
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
Anecdote Of The Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee, And round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill.
Of Modern Poetry
The poem of the mind in the act of finding What will suffice. It has not always had To find: the scene was set; it repeated what Was in the script.
Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird
I Among twenty snowy mountains, The only moving thing
Domination Of Black
At night, by the fire, The colors of the bushes And of the fallen leaves, Repeating themselves,
Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing ...
At the earliest ending of winter, In March, a scrawny cry from outside Seemed like a sound in his mind.
The Idea Of Order At Key West
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
Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour
Light the first light of evening, as in a room In which we rest and, for small reason, think The world imagined is the ultimate good.
Although you sit in a room that is gray, Except for the silver Of the straw-paper, And pick
The House Was Quiet And The World Was Ca...
The house was quiet and the world was calm. The reader became the book; and summer night Was like the conscious being of the book.
The Planet On The Table
Ariel was glad he had written his poems. They were of a remembered time Or of something seen that he liked.
Madame La Fleurie
Weight him down, O side-stars, with the great weightings of
Seal him there. He looked in a glass of the earth and thought
he lived in it.
Now, he brings all that he saw into the earth, to the waiting
His crisp knowledge is devoured by her, beneath a dew.