Wallace Stevens American Literature Analysis
In 1954, the year before his death, Stevens was asked to define his major theme. His clear, direct statement might have been taken from almost any of his earlier critics’ analyses. His work, he said,suggests the possibility of a supreme fiction, recognized as a fiction, in which men could propose to themselves a fulfillment. In the creation of any such fiction, poetry would have a vital significance. There are many poems relating to the interactions between reality and the imagination, which are to be regarded as marginal to this central theme.
From his earliest work in Trend and Poetry to the last few poems before his death, Stevens explored the relationships between the mind and the world, sometimes setting the greater value on the imagination, verging on Romanticism, and sometimes on the actual. His final position is an attempt to balance or reconcile the two.
Stevens’s first poems tend to glorify the imagination. In their energetic mental gymnastics, the poems of Harmonium astound by their virtuosity and their intellectual energy. It is these poems that prompted Stevens’s earliest critics to call him a “dandy.” Beneath the glittery surface of these early poems, however, is the first elaboration of the dynamic that would occupy him for a lifetime: the nature of the struggle between mind and world, as mind seeks to encompass and world resists.
The Harmonium poems return to several...
(The entire section is 4734 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Wallace Stevens Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!