Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

“The Idea of Order at Key West” is one of Stevens’ better known poems and the most important poem in the collection Ideas of Order. Some critics think that this poem is one of Stevens’ finest, and many cite it as among the best of his early poetry.

Early critics of the poem tended to praise what they considered a strong transforming imagination, reminiscent of the high romanticism of Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley. One of Stevens’ first major readers, Frank Kermode, in his book Wallace Stevens, claimed the poem “may stand as a great, perhaps belated, climax to a whole age of poetry that begins with Coleridge and Wordsworth; it celebrates the power of the mind over what they called ‘a universe of death.’” Similarly, Lucy Beckett, in her book titled Wallace Stevens, argues that “the poem’s marvelous conclusion, suggests in its triumphant but still calm cadences a glimpsed victory over poverty that could be the poet’s or could be any man’s.” Like Kermode and Beckett, Alan Perlis, in Wallace Stevens: A World of Transforming Shapes, praises the ability of the singer to transform the world into her own personal song, claiming the “intellectual aspect of the heroic act, the act of localizing nature in the mind, is forcefully expressed” in “The Idea of Order at Key West.” These critics tended to equate the solitary nature of the singer as she appears in stanzas two and three with Stevens himself...

(The entire section is 563 words.)