|Photo: Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens|
It was evening all afternoon.Winter imagery recurs in Stevens’s poetry and is usually forbidding. Helen Vendler has noted how jarring it is to find among the many comic poems in Harmonium, Stevens’s first book, “The Snow Man,” one of the saddest. It ends with the lines:
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs.
For the listener, who listens in the snowVendler remarks the poet’s many contradictions:
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the “plain sense of things” that he sometimes felt to be more American (and more faithful to reality). He would swear off one, then swear off the other, but each was a part of his sensibility. It became a matter of conscience to him to be European and American, to relish the sensual world and yet be true to its desolations. . . very few [other poets] possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call “Stevensian” (as we would say “Keatsian” or “Yeatsian”).Stevens annually fled Connecticut winters for the warm, lush climes of Key West. The tropical locale inspired some of his most celebrated poems, most notably “The Idea of Order at Key West.” Littoral, the blog of the Key West Literary Seminar, recently posted about the pivotal influence Key West had on Stevens’s poetry. It also includes a link to an account of one of his most embarrassing moments: his fistfight with Ernest Hemingway as recounted by Hemingway in a letter to Sara Murphy (including the injunction: “don’t tell anybody ... because otherwise I am a bastard to write it.”). Stevens broke his hand on Hemingway’s jaw and apologized a few days later. Six year later, Stevens even recommended Hemingway as one of the speakers for a series of lectures on poetry at Princeton. “Most people don’t think of Hemingway as a poet,” he wrote to a friend, “but obviously he is a poet and I should say, offhand, the most significant of living poets.”
Related LOA works: Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose