Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) was a trained lawyer, and was employed by the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co all his working life. He lived a relatively quiet life in an upper-class neighbourhood. Here is his poem Disillusionment Of Ten O`Clock:
The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns,
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
In red weather.
I suppose if one had met the Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte, in his sober suit and tie, one would be unlikely to guess that he was a painter, much less the weird and wonderful canvases he painted.
Stevens was no surrealist, but he was a sensualist of poetry, one of the most tactile of twentieth century poets, who, in poem after poem, says to the astounded reader: "Look. It`s all here, in front of you. This is it!"
Apparently, WS (oh, lucky initials) was an atheist, and despite the often rapt, awed nature of so many of his poems, what he is saying over and over again is that the world is "what it is" and no more - except to say "look at this... and this... and this too!"
Too many of Stevens` poems at one time tends to have the effect of cancelling each other out, as it were, since a certain repetitiveness ultimately displaces originality, but taken a few at a time - or a few dozen, as many are very short and succinct - they are like nothing else. One might have to look to certain French poets for something at all similar, perhaps Paul Valery`s Le Cimitiere Marin...
Another - rather less `eccentric` - example of this unique poetic voice:
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
(NB. I have reviewed the older 1990 Faber reissue edition of the Collected Poems, with the etching of WS on the cover, which contains only poems, rather than plays or essays. If you only want the poems, look for that one.)