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Wallace Stevens By: Katie Geairns and Allycia Rockwell
A Biography • Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1879. • He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate from 1897 to 1900. • He planned to travel to Paris as a writer, but after a working briefly as a reporter for the New York Herald Times, he decided to study law. He graduated with a degree from New York Law School in 1903 and was admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904. He practiced law in New York City until 1916. • He was friends with painters and writers in Greenwich Village such as the poets William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and E.E. Cummings. • In 1916 he moved to Connecticut, and became vice president at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. in 1934. • He began to establish an identity for himself outside the world of law and business, and his first book of poems, Harmonium (published in 1923), exhibited the influence of both the English Romantics and the French Symbolists, an inclination to aesthetic philosophy, and a wholly original style and sensibility: exotic, whimsical, infused with the light and color of an Impressionist painting.
Cont. Biography • Wallace Stevens focused on his business life for the next several years and began to publish new poems in 1930. • In the following year, a second edition of Harmonium was published, which included fourteen new poems and left out three of the decidedly weaker ones. • More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life. • Even though he is considered one of the major American poets of the century, he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems, just a year before his death. • His major works include Ideas of Order (1935), The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942), and a collection of essays on poetry, The Necessary Angel (1951). • Stevens died in Hartford in 1955.
Modernist Poetry • Wallace Stevens is classified as a modern poet, so here’s a bit about modern poetry. • It is said to have began around the early 20th century. This era is said to have been an effect of the Victorian era (1837-1901). • Modern poetry is supposed to be, well, modern. It’s supposed to open up new ideas and allow the reader to interoperate it in many different ways. To do this, modern poets use tools such as visual poetry, collage, found poetry, and the connection of seemingly opposite or unrelated ideas. • Wallace Stevens is a perfect example of this. He puts together many abstract ideas and somehow manages to relate them, even come to conclusions that may or may not be accepted.
Stevens Style • Wallace Stevens poetry is, to say the least, different and imaginative • He is considered not only a poet, but a philosopher as well • His poems are different because instead of a flow, like a story, his poems contain many seemingly random ideas and thoughts • These ideas and thoughts are not so random if you don’t focus on the literal meaning. • They’re meant in invoke images, not give meaning • “Reality is the product of the imagination as it shapes the world” Unknown • The quote above seems to explain Wallace perfectly • In reality, his poems are quite strange • However the poems aren’t meant to be taken literally, they’re about the reaction • They’re about the readers imagination
Domination of Blackby Wallace Stevens At night, by the fire,The colors of the bushesAnd of the fallen leaves,Repeating themselves,Turned in the room,Like the leaves themselvesTurning in the wind.Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocksCame striding.And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.The colors of their tailsWere like the leaves themselvesTurning in the wind,In the twilight wind.They swept over the room,Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocksDown to the ground.I heard them cry -- the peacocks.Was it a cry against the twilight? Or against the leaves themselves?Turning in the wind,Turning as the flamesTurned in the fire,Turning as the tails of the peacocksTurned in the loud fire,Loud as the hemlocksFull of the cry of the peacocks?Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?Out of the window,I saw how the planets gatheredLike the leaves themselvesTurning in the wind.I saw how the night came,Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks.I felt afraid,And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
Analysis: Domination of Black • When reading this poem, a cluster of images come to mind. • At first, the poet seems calm by the fire and then as the poem goes on, he/she begins to panic. • The fear starts with the flickering of images and colours that the fire creates in the room on the walls. Then the poet says: “And I remembered the cry of the peacocks”. If anyone has every heard the sound that they make, it is anything but comforting...especially during the night. *Note: Their tail feathers are often fanned behind them, revealing colourful “eye” patterns of brilliant blue and green. So when the narrator says: “The colours of their tails / Were like the leaves themselves / Turning in the wind / In the twilight wind / They swept over the room”, the readers can assume that he feels like he is being watched. • Leaves turning in the wind helps the reader understand that the poem takes place during the season: autumn (which is symbolic for death). It is not specified what the poet fears, but whatever it is, seems to be a vague feeling of doom, or perhaps death that is either approaching or already there. The poet notices outside the window that the planets are gathering, similar to the leaves: “Like the leaves themselves”, and the night comes striding in. All of his/her fears are confirmed when they say “I felt afraid”. • This poem is a good representation of how the night can turn simple things into our greatest fears and how our imagination takes over…Darkness dominates our mind. • It is read in first person; there is no rhyme scheme (except for “hemlocks” and “peacocks” when they’re said one sentence after an other); it’s a free verse poem. This poem has similes (“The colors of their tails/Were like the leaves themselves” and “Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks”), and good imagery.
The Brave Man by Wallace Stevens The sun, that brave man, Comes through the boughs that lie in wait, That brave man. Green and gloomy eyes In dark forms of the grass Run away. The good stars, Pale helms and spiky spurs, Run away. Fears of my bed, Fears of life and fears of death, Run away. The brave man comes up From below and walks without meditation, That brave man.
Analysis:The Brave Man • In this case, the Brave Man is what Wallace Stevens is using to describe the sun. • It sounds like an ode to the sun; the way he describes how the sun is victorious in making the persons fears go away…at least during the day time, and whoever it is, is thankful. • Wallace Stevens says that the Brave Man “comes up / From below and walks without meditation” This can imply how dependable we are on the constant motion of the sun and is also a form of personification (giving non-living things human characteristics). • This poem seems to be the opposite of Domination of Black: In that one, darkness approaches or is already there, and in this one the darkness is going away (temporarily). • Again, there is also no rhyme scheme for this poem, repetition of lines, imagery. It consists of five tercets.
Floral Decorations for Bananas by Wallace Stevens Well, nuncle, this plainly won’t do.These insolent, linear peelsAnd sullen, hurricane shapesWon’t do with your eglantine.They require something serpentine.Blunt yellow in such a room!You should have had plums tonight,In an eighteenth-century dish,And pettifogging buds,For the women of primrose and purl,Each one in her decent curl.Good God! What a precious light! But bananas hacked and hunched…The table was set by an ogre,His eye on an outdoor gloomAnd a stiff and noxious place.Pile the bananas on planks.The women will be all shanksAnd bangles and slatted eyes.And deck the bananas in leavesPlucked from the Carib trees,Fibrous and dangling down,Oozing cantankerous gumOut of their purple maws,Darting out of their purple crawsTheir musky and tingling tongues.
Analysis: Floral Decorations for Bananas • It starts off saying that everything’s no good: banana’s are on the table and they looks hideous, revolting and obscene. The author then suggests plums since they are a classic dish and women would like them more because they are pretty and well put together…much like the woman herself. Plums are considered classic due to the mention of eighteenth century. • The poem goes on to talking about how gross the bananas are; the poet it complaining how disgusting they are, they are a phallic symbol and thus comparison between men and the bananas are made. The uncle is described as an ogre, the man who set the table, and this is stating that all men are this way and that they cannot take care of themselves. • It says that women will be disappointed when they see the bananas on the table because in this case, they are not very appealing to the eye. Since the bananas don’t look too good, they should decorate the bananas in purple (a feminine colour), leaves and such. • The whole poem is sexist. It talks about how disgusting men are and how women are stereotypically more appealing and attractive. However I’m still debating over what he is trying to say at the end of the poem. By covering the banana’s with prettier things, is he saying that men should be more feminine or is he saying that every man needs a good woman to cover up his faults.
Peter Quince and the Clavier II In the green water, clear and warm, Susanna lay. She searched The torch of Springs, And found Concealed imaginings. She sighed, For so much melody. Upon the bank, she stood In the cool Of spent emotions. She felt, among the leaves, The dew Of old devotions. She walked upon the grass, Still quavering. The winds were like her maids, On timid feet, Fetching her woven scarves, Yet wavering. A breath upon her hand Muted the night. She turned-- A cymbal crashed, And roaring horns. I Just as my fingers on these keys Make music, so the self-same sounds On my spirit make a music, too. Music is feeling, then, not sound; And thus it is that what I feel, Here in this room, desiring you, Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk, Is music. It is like the strain Waked in the elders by Susanna: Of a green evening, clear and warm, She bathed in her still garden, while The red-eyed elders, watching, felt The basses of their beings throb In witching chords, and their thin blood Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.
Cont. Peter Quince and the Clavier IV Beauty is momentary in the mind -- The fitful tracing of a portal; But in the flesh it is immortal. The body dies; the body's beauty lives, So evenings die, in their green going, A wave, interminably flowing. So gardens die, their meek breath scenting The cowl of Winter, done repenting. So maidens die, to the auroral Celebration of a maiden's choral. Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings Of those white elders; but, escaping, Left only Death's ironic scrapings. Now, in its immortality, it plays On the clear viol of her memory, And makes a constant sacrament of praise. III Soon, with a noise like tambourines, Came her attendant Byzantines. They wondered why Susanna cried Against the elders by her side; And as they whispered, the refrain Was like a willow swept by rain. Anon, their lamps' uplifted flame Revealed Susanna and her shame. And then, the simpering Byzantines, Fled, with a noise like tambourines.
Analysis: Peter Quince and the Clavier • In Part I, the person is playing the piano, not only making music that makes just sounds, but music that affects the spirit as well. Therefore, music is a feeling, and the author feels desire. He’s relating a woman’s beauty to music because they both make him feel feelings. The elders are her ancestors and also those in the past, have also been hurt as she has. Her bathing in a garden creates in him, a desire. The thumping of his heart makes him hear the bass, and chords are compared to his thin blood. • In Part II, she is by herself in beautiful surroundings and it’s very quite. She sighs for a melody and the author is saying that she wants to feel. She’s drained, and was once filled with life but now it’s all over. She wants to remember what it was like to feel. The poem relates the wind to her maids. This is hinting at the idea that she may have once been rich, with her woven scarves that are wavering. The girl then feels something and turns to see what it was. The crashing cymbals and the roaring of the horns symbolizes that what she saw, was something that she didn’t want to. • In Part III, It’s her attendant Byzantines that come to her aid (proves that she is rich; the Byzantinian Empire was taken over by the Roman Empire). The poem says that she had been wandering around the garden crying her eyes out because of lost feelings. She was hiding her tears, but now she has been found and is ashamed…so she runs away. *Note: bad things can be represented by loud noises. • In Part IV, it is explaining that the idea and memory of beauty will live on because in its physical form, it is immortal and will die. Here, it is almost as if the author is trying to cheer the woman up by saying that her beauty and the times that have past may be gone, but will always stay in her memory…and nothing lasts forever. In the end, she commits suicide and joins her elders, the spirits. She leaves only death in her wake and now her sad song plays forever because she’s immortal in death.
Other Poems by Stevens • Tattoo • The Emperor of Ice-Cream • The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm • The Idea of Order at Key West • The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad • The Planet On The Table • The Plot Against the Giant • The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain • The River of Rivers in Connecticut • The Sense Of The Sleight-Of-Hand Man • The Snow Man • The Well Dressed Man With A Beard • Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird • To The One Of Fictive Music • Two Figures in Dense Violet Light • Valley Candle A High-Toned Old Christian Woman Anecdote of the Jar Bantams in Pine-woods Continual Conversation With A Silent Man Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour Gray Room Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly Madame la Fleurie Metaphors of a Magnifico Nomad Exquisite Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself Of Modern Poetry Poem Written at Morning Six Significant Landscapes Sunday Morning