The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Credences of Summer” is a blank-verse poem divided into ten sections, or cantos, of three five-line stanzas each. The title suggests a set of “truths” or declarations about this season; to Stevens summer was the epitome of the year’s natural fullness, and it is often associated in his poetry with the creative process. This process, as described in canto VII of the poem, is a three-stage or “thrice concentred” activity. “Credences of Summer” is arranged accordingly, with cantos I through III devoted to the moment of experience that the individual artist or writer wishes to express in art or poetry. His cantos IV through VI describe the ordering of that moment in the artist’s consciousness; cantos VII through IX are devoted to the finished articulation or rendering in art of that experience. Canto X, like the final sections in many of Stevens’s longer meditative poems, serves as a coda that reiterates the imaginative process which the poem as a whole defines and exemplifies.

Canto I sets the poem’s tone of contemplation with the pun on the word “broods” and with the declaration that at midsummer “the mind lays by its trouble,” repeated with the addition of “and considers” in the next line. This moment of contemplation begins the poetic act—what Stevens called elsewhere the “act of the mind.” Full of sensation, this moment will be accorded the mind’s full attention, without “evasion” (canto II). The poet must look at a subject directly, not relying...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stevens employs a highly formal structure and an elevated diction throughout “Credences of Summer,” lending the poem’s language a pronouncement-like gravity. His use of literary allusion and symbolism strengthens the tone of seemingly incontrovertible rhetoric in the poem.

First, the division of the poem into numbered cantos suggests an orderly argument as opposed to an impassioned lyrical poem such as an ode or sonnet. The blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) allows Stevens a rhythmic flexibility that approaches prose discourse at times, furthering the reader’s sense of being in the presence of an eminently reasonable, thoughtful persona speculating on the mind’s ability to comprehend the phenomena of human experience. The diction heightens this effect; highly wrought terms abound: “infuriations,” “inhalations,” “apogee,” “ancientness,” and “clairvoyance.” Elsewhere Stevens resorts to foreignisms: douceurs, tristesses. The long compound and complex sentences reinforce the formality. (No fewer than half a dozen sentences here extend to a five-line stanza or more, with the poem’s final sentence stretching across three stanzas in all.)

In a poem that urges the mind to dispense with received metaphors and accepted systems of perceiving the world, it is ironic that Stevens should make such use of literary allusion. With his opening line—“Now in midsummer come and all fools slaughtered”—Stevens...

(The entire section is 471 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.