The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Farewell Without a Guitar”—in which a lover accepts and laments the end of an affair—is a short lyric in five variable-meter, three-line stanzas. In typical Wallace Stevens fashion, it works essentially by indirection; that is, Stevens lets metaphors and images represent the feelings involved in the situation. The poem is nevertheless eloquent and evocative, and every nuance of feeling is shaped with subtlety.

The title begins the articulation of mood. “Farewell Without a Guitar” is an inversion of a popular title for Romantic lyric piano pieces, “Songs Without Words.” These are “Words Without Music”—the unaccompanied lyric poem. Stevens implies that solitary words can reflect and induce moods as well as music. The title also indicates that the poem is a statement of parting, final but wistful: The persona wishes that it had not come to this, but he accepts it with a sigh.

The first stanza documents the loss. This marks the end of “spring’s bright paradise”—of all the hopes and expectations caught up in the onset of the romance, of all the fantasies triply multiplied by the three terms, each of which separately connotes hope, growth, flowering, and fruition. The tree planted in that soil comes to this end: The “thousand-leaved green” reaches the end of despair and comes fluttering down. The persona bids farewell, significantly to “his days.” The suggestion is that he now has nothing left but nights.


(The entire section is 507 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It is frequently difficult to name Stevens’s figures and techniques, because he often does not conform to conventional means. His predecessors are difficult to identify; his methods seem idiosyncratic and of his own devising. His poetry is an art of indirection, implication, and suggestion. The reader new to Stevens often wonders why he does not simply say what he means. The answer is that he does. It is simply that what he means is complex and not statable in conventional ways. Perhaps the easiest way to approach his work is through the observations that he likes to play with words, ideas, and sounds and that he proceeds largely by suggestion. This kind of playfulness and allusiveness has already been noted in the poem’s title: This is a sad little song, like a minor-key Spanish guitar piece about parting, except that this lacks the sonority of accompaniment.

“Farewell Without a Guitar” begins by establishing the end of “spring’s bright paradise” and everything promised by spring: the advent of light, growth, flowering, love. Spring is the season of love; its bright paradise is the ecstasy of falling in love, a time when all the senses become tuned to expectation, when one’s entire being is caught up in hope. All of this has come to ruin: “the thousand-leaved green falls to the ground.” Literally, this is the falling of the leaves; metaphorically, it is the desolation of all hope. The tree of promise, “leaved” in spring, is now...

(The entire section is 533 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.