Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Like much of the poetry of Wallace Stevens, “Credences of Summer” is deeply philosophical, concerned with the processes by which the human mind perceives and comes to understand the external “reality” it is at once separable from and itself a part of. Critics have cited several themes extending from this concern.
First, the poem can be read as a kind of prologue to Stevens’s more famous “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” in which the poet proposes that the creation of literary art should have a force equal to nature’s creative powers. “Credences of Summer” thus concerns the effects of a poet’s creation upon the individual consciousness. Because people tend to perceive the world through the images, metaphors, and symbols (“fictions,” as Stevens conceives them) with which artists, philosophers, and theologians have supplied them, the poet’s task is to examine how such fictions or constructs of the mind are employed, eventually providing new fictions with which people can apprehend the world around them.
Other critics have pointed to the sense of crisis in the poem, suggesting that “Credences of Summer” expresses the poet’s own doubts about his creative powers as he entered the latter stages of his literary career. Images of slaughter and of catastrophe begin the poem, which proceeds to invoke other terms of finality that may be read as spiritual or intellectual fatigue: the final mountain, last choirs, last...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
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