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The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens Paperback – 1 Jan 2001
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"'One of the most considerable poets of the last hundred years... Poems that are as distinguished as any written this century.' Thom Gunn, London Magazine" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He studied at Harvard and afterwards worked briefly as a journalist, before going on to study law. In 1908 he began working for the legal department of an insurance company, and was ultimately appointed vice-president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company in 1934. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
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.)
I don't know where to start in talking about this book. Some of the poems are less good than those in his Collected Poems -- they seem to be drafts for his more successful poems -- but some are as good. The late poems are especially good, clear and imagistic: "I wonder, have I lived a skeleton's life / As a questioner about reality, / A countryman of all the bones in the world? / Now, here, the warmth I had forgotten becomes / Part of the major reality, part of / An appreciation of reality ..." ('First Warmth') There are many other poems here of equal beauty.
Stevens was an unusually intelligent poet. Perhaps more unusual than his intelligence was the analytic nature of his intelligence. A number of essays here approach the subject of philosophy -- always from a poet's point of view. They offer fascinating observations such as "The marvellous poetry of Nietzsche leaves us with -- the marvellous poetry of Nietzsche, and nothing else." Other essays connect Stevens to his time: there are two reviews of William Carlos Williams, one of which interestingly (and much to Williams' annoyance) characterised Williams as a romantic, whose attraction to the anti-poetic was an necessary corrective to this romanticism.
All the items in this book cover Stevens' major concerns: art, poetry, and its relation to "mere being" (to use the title of one of his last poems). Seen as a volume of poetry or as a volume of criticism, this is work that is far outside the usual order, both in the quality and passion of its thought. Stevens, unlike Pound or Eliot, was a poet who was, to a certain extent, outside the collective enterprise that was Modernism. He left struggles with movements to others, and instead pursued his own path with sure-footed tenacity. "Poetry," runs one of his aphorisms, "must resist the intelligence almost successfully." This book allows us to share in Stevens' high quest for reality, struggled towards through the practice of poetry.