Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction Themes
by Wallace Stevens

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stevens expressed in letters his desire to define a role for the poet similar to the role of the priest. This poem is an effort to exalt poetry and to explore its possibilities as a replacement for religion or perhaps as a religion in itself. In one letter, Stevens commented, “In principle there appear to be certain characteristics of a supreme fiction and the NOTES is confined to a statement of a few of those characteristics.In trying to create something as valid as the idea of God has been, and for that matter remains, the first necessity seems to be breadth.” The varied themes of Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction bind into one strand leading toward such an exalted definition of the supreme fiction. Interestingly, Stevens said to one correspondent that the supreme fiction was poetry, but to another correspondent, after he had immersed himself fully in the project, he claimed that he did not want to be so limiting. The concept had begun to widen and to transcend itself.

Stevens was preoccupied throughout his life with the way art becomes dated so quickly, and, in “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” (a paper first given at Princeton in 1942 and later published, in his essay collection The Necessary Angel , in 1951), he described how some well-known statues reflected their culture and were incomprehensible if divorced by time or space from that culture. His long poem looks at the possibility of setting poetry or art or even the creative act itself free from the limits of time and circumstance. He suggests that this be done by altering the way the artist looks at the world. Creative perception requires all of the perceiver’s resources. It involves stripping away the accretions of the past to look at the real world as if through Adam’s eyes, accepting change as the basis for all art, and opening art itself to change. It also involves being aware of the pleasure that comes from both the world and the artistic act, thus...

(The entire section is 517 words.)