Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Wallace Stevens was not a particularly philosophical poet, but he was an idea poet, for ideas always lurk behind his aesthetics. Unlike E. E. Cummings, who in poems such as “a man who had fallen among thieves” often centers on relationships, community, and love, thereby challenging Christians to live up to their biblical roots, Stevens is more concerned with immediate reality and how one perceives it. He dismisses belief systems in order to focus on the present as a poet. His challenge is to people in their immediate context, to their imaginative capability, and to this end he takes the reader inside the man with the blue guitar.

In the background of Stevens’s poem are key thinkers of all times and places, notes Joseph Riddle in The Clairvoyant Eye (1965). Stevens assumes with Heraclitus that the world is in flux, and as a student of Georg Hegel he sees reality as moving forward creatively. Stevens also must have admired James Joyce’s young Steven Dedalus as Steven pursues new worlds as poet and thinker in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). At the same time, he rejects the idea of God or the divinity of Christ, even undercutting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion of transcendence, as he does T. S. Eliot’s “still point,” in favor of an immediate and changing world.

Where Stevens is most original is in his creative images, according to William York Tindall, through which he makes his reader ponder...

(The entire section is 549 words.)