Wallace Stevens

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Stevens, Wallace

Stevens, Wallace, 1879–1955, American poet, b. Reading, Pa., educated at Harvard and New York Law School, admitted to the bar 1904. While in New York, he mingled in literary circles and published his first poems in the magazine Poetry. Moving to Connecticut, he was associated after 1916 with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, and from 1934 until his death he served as its vice president. A master of exquisite, gravely lyrical verse, elegant in form and style, Stevens was concerned with creating some shape of order in the world's “slovenly wilderness” of chaos and with creating a life “unsponsored” by God but enriched by language and the imagination. These ideas are expressed in his earliest volume, Harmonium (1923), which contains many of the best known of his poems, including “Sunday Morning,” in which a woman stays home from church and the spiritual remains, without God, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” His ideas are developed subsequently in Ideas of Order (1936); The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937); Parts of the World (1942); Transport to Summer (1947), which includes the long poem “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction,” in which Stevens elaborates on the poet's role in creating the fictions necessary to transform and harmonize the world; The Auroras of Autumn (1950); The Necessary Angel, essays (1951); and Opus Posthumous (1957). His Collected Poems (1954) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.


See his Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. by F. Kermode and J. Richardson (1997); letters, ed. by H. Stevens (1966); biographies by H. Stevens (1977), J. Richardson (2 vol., 1986–88), and P. Mariani (2016); studies by H. Vendler (1969), H. Bloom (1980), and E. Cook (2009).

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Stevens, Wallace

(1879–1955) poet, insurance executive; born in Reading, Pa. He took a special course at Harvard (1897–1900) and published some poems while there. He went to New York City to work as a journalist (1900–01) but didn't care for journalism and went to New York University Law School (1901–03). He practiced law in New York City (1904–16) and in 1916 joined the legal staff of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, with which he remained until his death (becoming a vice-president in 1934). While in New York City he had come to know many of the leading writers and artists, and he published his first poems as an adult in 1914, with "Sunday Morning" appearing in Poetry magazine in 1915. His verse play, "Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise," (1916) won a Poetry prize and was produced by New York's Provincetown Playhouse (1917). His first collection of poetry, Harmonium, was published in 1923, and though selling less than 100 copies, received some acclaim from fellow poets. More collections followed throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but not until the 1950s did he begin to receive wider recognition, reflected in literary awards, publication of his essays and addresses, and tributes to him as a major modern poet. After his death his influence on poets and serious readers of poetry only increased, for they found in the meticulous language and daring metaphors of such poems as "The Emperor of Ice Cream" and "The Man with the Blue Guitar"—decidedly difficult as they are—the creative imagination that allows humans to face the reality Stevens valued.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
A similar confidence and calm constitute the achievement of Stevens's late work, where awareness of an eternally returning tomorrow deepens the importance of ordinarily repetitive days, and the turbulent conclusion of "The Auroras of Autumn" leads to poems of "A Quiet Normal Life" (Collected 443).
Even the "outlandish," in the words of "The Auroras of Autumn," comes as "another day // Of the week" (361-62).
Some poets take on the Everything challenge with a babbly glibness, but for a serious poet it's obviously a daunting task, and it has led to some brave and marvelous offerings, such as Crane's "The Bridge," Eliot's Four Quartets, Stevens's "The Auroras of Autumn"; good contemporary examples include poems by Robert Pinsky, Albert Goldbarth, Susan Mitchell, and (in a self-ironic manner) Kenneth Koch.
In Woodland's analysis of "The Auroras of Autumn," for example, considerable tension is seen to emerge in the poem's closural movement--so much so, indeed, that making the separation between the modern and the postmodern in such an estrus of contradiction is scandalously perilous.