(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A poem that illustrates Stevens’s growing preoccupation with the hero and the nature of heroism, “Chocorua to Its Neighbor” features a mountain discussing the human hero myth. “Chocorua” consists of twenty-six five-line stanzas of blank verse, and it develops the definition of the heroic through images from alchemy. The creation of the hero, then, is a mystical process, like the transmutation of the base metals into gold. Like alchemy, the creation of the hero is really a process of self-refinement.

The poem begins with an indication of the mountain’s perspective. The mountain has the detachment of distance, of objectivity, of largeness. Armies and wars are perceived as mass movements of numbers, not as individual soldiers in combat. A war is “A swarming of number over number, not/ One foot approaching, one uplifted arm.”

Nevertheless, there is a “prodigious shadow” which represents humankind, visible on the mountain. It is “the self of selves” who is represented (in section 5) as a quintessence, or alchemical fifth essence, through references to the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water and to the “essay,” a vessel for the transmutation. The figure is “the glitter of a being,” half perceived, the blue “of the pole of blue/ And of the brooding mind”—that is, half real, half imagined. This figure speaks, explaining “the enlarging of the simplest soldier’s cry/ In what I am, as he falls.” That is, the mythic human gives meaning to an individual life. The soldier’s death has its significance because of this central human.

The man-myth doubts its own reality in...

(The entire section is 674 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bates, Milton J. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Cleghorn, Angus J. Wallace Stevens’ Poetics: The Neglected Rhetoric. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

Critchley, Simon. Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Ford, Sara J. Gertrude Stein and Wallace Stevens: The Performance of Modern Consciousness. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Leggett, B. J. Late Stevens: The Final Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

Morse, Samuel F. Wallace Stevens: Poetry as Life. New York: Pegasus, 1970.

Santilli, Kristine S. Poetic Gesture: Myth, Wallace Stevens, and the Motions of Poetic Language. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Sharpe, Tony. Wallace Stevens: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.