Wallace Stevens Essay, Research Paper
December 0, 19
In the introduction to Wallace Stevens, the Twentieth Century Literary Criticism concludes that:
Stevens is one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. Integrating such European influences as Symbolism, Imagism, and Romanticism into his distinctly American idiom, he created a poetic language that has been praised for its originality, intricacy and vibrancy. Throughout his works, Stevens sought to discover the interconnectedness of life and art. He succeeded, seamlessly combing combining comic irony and epistemological skepticism with traditional forms and meters to reflect the complex concerns of modernity. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 45)
Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1979 to an upper-middle class family. His father was a prominent attorney and businessman. His mother a self-taught schoolteacher. Stevens?s mother helped to instill values of religious beliefs. She was said to have read Bible verses to her children every night. Stevens was said to have obtained his practical side or his reasoning abilities from his father and his imagination from his mother. Stevens attended Reading Boys High School were he was enrolled in the classical curriculum and studied several different languages and national literatures.
In 1897 Stevens enrolled at Harvard University. Stevens entered Harvard during the time of Michie?s Proclamation and the period of Darwin?s Theory of Evolution. Without obtaining his degree Stevens left Harvard University in 1900 and he began a successful career in journalism. Stevens moved to New York City and worked as a newspaper reporter. Through his newspaper articles Stevens was exposed to the harsh conditions within New York City. Having to report on negative issues Stevens became emotional.
In 1901 because of his father?s persuasion Stevens enrolled in the New York Law School. Stevens successfully passed and was admitted to the New York bar in 1904. Stevens had his own law practice and also worked for several different law firms in New York concentrating primarily on insurance law. In 1908 Stevens accepted a job as an attorney for an insurance company.
In 1905 Stevens married Elsie Kachel from Reading, Pennsylvania. Ms. Kachel could probably be described as a country girl. She had only completed her first year of secondary school. This may have attracted Stevens to her due to the fact that he would have substantial influence over her. After their marriage Stevens and his new wife moved back to New York. There Stevens probably neglected Elise?s adjustment and paid little attention to her needs. Stevens and his wife began to become somewhat detached.
In 1916 Stevens and Elsie moved to Hartford, Connecticut, there Stevens worked for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. In 1934 Stevens was promoted to vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Stevens continued to work for this company for the remainder of his life.
In 1924 Stevens wife gave birth to a daughter, Holly Stevens.
Several factors that helped to influence Stevens?s poetry writing were industrialization, the great depression, the world wars and Stevens own imagination. During the great depression Stevens father became bankrupt. I believe that this had an enormous effect on Stevens because of his father?s status in the community and his father?s values. Stevens?s father attempted to instill to Wallace the virtues of hard work and making money. (Lichtenstein 161) In learning that Stevens attended law school mainly due to his father?s wishes causes me to believe that Stevens must have had a great deal of admiration and respect for his father.
Another factor that I feel would have been a substantial influence for Stevens would be religion. Stevens was brought up in a religious environment and was pushed heavily toward languages and literature. Stevens?s religious values would have been effected by Darwin?s Theory of Evolution, the poet James Merrill made the statement that if there was no God then there was no devil. The scholar and critic Helen Vendler pointed out Steven?s religious upbringing and went on to talk about the King James Bible and its effects during this time period. The biographer Joan Richardson quoted the saying by William James ?The problem is what to do with the will to believe once there wasn?t a God in whom to believe?. This would in my opinion have had substantial influence over Stevens?s work.
If I had to pick one thing that set Stevens off from other poets it would be his imagination. In my opinion there are very few if any poems written by Stevens that do not entail to some degree Stevens?s ability to utilize his imagination. His imagination then to me is the single most important factor in Stevens?s poetry.
One of the things that I saw as odd about Stevens?s poetry was his inability to describe any details about himself in any of his poems. The poet Mark Strand stated in the film that you never hear Stevens say anything like I am feeling bad today. Especially considering Stevens?s ability to use his imagination I felt that maybe there might have been an untold story or unknown reason that Stevens?s would have purposely left this out. Looking back to the exercises we were required to complete most if not all that I had written detailed something about me or something that I had experienced. Knowing Stevens?s willingness to write poems for his wife I would think it almost impossible to leave out such a necessary item. I would probably contribute Stevens?s father for Stevens?s inability to describe personal details. I thought that Stevens?s father would probably view it as a sign of weakness.
I was also intrigued by Stevens?s use of opposites and how they supported one another. In my opinion Stevens?s best example of this is in ?Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion? where Stevens places several different contradictions directly side by side. In line eight Stevens?s says: ?Summer is changed to winter, the young grow old?.
According to Lichtenstein, this is due to Stevens?s professional training as a lawyer and the philosophy behind the practice of law. (162)
The Stevens poem that probably had the greatest effect on me would have been ?The Snow Man?. I could see how one would say that you must have an understanding of winter to truly appreciate the winter months. This may have had an effect on me due to the current season and the anticipation of winter and the expected snow fall. I also found it to be one of Stevens easier to understand poems.
In 1955 Wallace Stevens died in Hartford, Connecticut but he lives in the hearts of those who read his poetry.
DiYanni, Robert, Modern American Poets Their Voices and Visions. 2nd ed. Pleasantville: Pace University, 1994.
Lichtenstein, Alice Rabi, Voices & Visions A television Course in Modern American Poetry. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1987.
Seidman, Robert, Wallace Stevens Man Made out of Words, Prod. Jill Janors. Dir. Richard P. Rogers. PBS, Voices and Visions Series, New York Center for Visual History, Inc. 1988.
DiMauro, Laurie. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 45. Gale Research Inc. Detroit, London.