The Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While the light and wind imagery in “The Auroras of Autumn” may allude to poetry by Wordsworth, Shelley, and others (such as Walt Whitman), the more interesting indebtedness of the poem is to some of Stevens’s own earlier poems. In particular, the refrain “Farewell to an idea” opening sections 2, 3, and 4 alludes to the poems Stevens published under the title Ideas of Order (1935), which included “Farewell to Florida” and “The Idea of Order at Key West.” “Farewell to an idea,” then, evokes an attitude of transformation in the poet’s own life, poetic style and theme, or philosophical orientation. This marks Stevens’s poem as a “hail and farewell” experience, in which he meets an object (or person) in passing on his way elsewhere. “The Auroras of Autumn” is a greeting to the spectacle of the northern lights at a time of transition (autumn) for the poet, who is looking for death (winter) in the flash of illumination provided by the auroras as his (innocent) imagination.

This theme of farewell allows the poem to be a vehicle for some private experiences from Stevens’s life, such as those associated with his mother (her necklace and her hands in section 3, her singing in section 8) and his father (his eyes in section 4, his poems in section 5). Perhaps he refers to his brothers in section 5, as well as in section 9, where he may also refer to his wife as one whose “coming became a freedom” for himself and her. These personal, family “ideas” are sources of warmth but also obstacles to imaginative freedom; to them he must also bid farewell. Everything dissolves and disappears, everything is transformed, as...

(The entire section is 415 words.)