Free Term Paper on Wallace Stevens

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Wallace Stevens:
Inside the Gray Flannel Suit
Rationalists, wearing square hets,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling,
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses-
As for example, the ellipse of the half moon-
Rationalists would wear sombreros.
"Six Significant Landscapes" (Collected Poems p.73-75)

Wallace Stevens is considered one of the most important poets of this century. His style was unique and different. The way he used words to obtain the reality of something that can't be touched, is an amazing and brilliant talent. Stevens was a very successful lawyer and business man as well as a great poet. We usually think of poets and artists as "starving artists." Stevens was a very accomplished lawyer and was still able to write beautiful poetry. His poems usually contradicted his lifestyle, but that might be were he got his inspiration. He had a wife, family, and career, he had a very quiet lifestyle. But, his poetry is very loud and abstract.


Wallace Stevens was born in 1879, in Reading, Pennsylvania. As a child, he started out at parochial schools, and later enrolled in public schools. Wallace's parents encourage him to read, which helped him become a better writer. In school, Wallace was an excellent student.


After high school, he continued his education at Harvard University, where
he became involved with two Harvard newspapers, first the Advocate and then
the Harvard Monthly. After leaving college, he moved to New York City. He worked as a journalist, and considered a literary career. But, his father encouraged Stevens to become a more practical career in the law business. He worked as a lawyer for a few years in New York. He worked at different firms and then at the Fidelity and Deposit Company. He finally
settled at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he became the vice president for the rest of his life.
It was like Stevens led two separate lives, one of a business man and one as a poet. Stevens himself once said in a New York Times interview, "I prefer to think I'm just a man, not a poet part time, business man the rest. This is a fortunate thing, considering how inconsiderate the ravens are. I don't divide my life, just go on living." Many of Stevens' fans are often surprised when they learn of Stevens' life as a business man.


As mentioned earlier, Wallace Stevens' work reflected his life in many
ways. His daughter, Holly, and his wife, Elsie were both inspirations for his poems. The people, places, and things in Stevens' private life all influenced his poetry. He wrote about Florida, the Orient, his family, life, death, religion, nature, and many other subjects. His poetry had many unique themes as well. He wrote about paganism, metaphysics, imagination, dreams, God, and reality. In his lifetime, Stevens published many of his poems, his most well-known are Harmonium, The Man With the Blue Guitar, Transport to Summer, and The Auroras of Autumn. He also wrote prose, essays, and plays.
Stevens poems are complex. In order to read most of his poetry, it's necessary to have a dictionary in hand. Stevens has a huge vocabulary and he puts it to good use in his poetry. Many have called his work "deep" because of the philosophical aspects of his poems. One poem that I like, "Contrary Thesis (II)" was difficult for me to read at first. An excerpt from it is a good example of Stevens' different use of language:
...He walked with his year-old boy on his shoulder.
The sun shone and the dog barked and the baby slept.
The leaves, even the locust, the green locust.

He wanted and looked for a final refuge,
From the bombastic intimations of winter
And the martyrs à la mode. He walked toward

An abstract, of which the sun, the dog, the boy
Were contours. Cold was chilling the wide-moving swans.
The leaves were falling like notes from a piano...
- "Contrary Thesis (II)"(Collected Poems p.207)

This poem is talking about a man looking for a refuge before winter comes. It seems to be talking about getting old, the way the seasons change from autumn to winter. The man who is looking for refuge seems to be trying to find out where his life is taking him. In the end of the poem, Stevens seems to hint at the spring to come. I think that this poem is about the
cycle of life.
Not all of Wallace Stevens' poems are difficult. He used simpler language in some poems, while still getting the point across to the reader. One poem that I like which is more simple is from Harmonium:
This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.
-"The Wind Shifts" (Collected Poems p. 83-84)

I like this poem because it is simple and to the point. I interpret this poem as being about human nature. It's as if Stevens is saying that with every change in life, or every shift of the wind, it is human nature to react accordingly. To me, this is a poem about a person who, as he or she gets older, assumes a bleaker outlook on life. In the beginning of the poem, the person seems to be optimistic in some ways, but as things change and life goes on, it comes to the point where that person just doesn't care anymore. The language of this poem is not nearly as difficult as Stevens' typical work, but it still holds a strong message.
The poem, "The Auroras of Autumn" is a famous poem which is thought to be about the atomic bomb. Stevens wrote about war, which shows that his poems were about a large variety of different things. Joan Richardson, author of Stevens' biography interprets the poem and discusses another critic's views on it:


Charles Berger has made an admirable contribution to the reading of Stevens in having first pointed out the connections between "The Auroras of Autumn" and the explosion of the atomic bomb. The present cloud in the poem had never been explained, and the following lines have never been explained
It is a theatre floating through the clouds,
Itself a cloud, although of misted rock


And mountains running like water, wave on wave...(p. 265)

Another subject that Stevens was inclined to write about was death. "Sunday Morning is probably his most famous poem about death. Critic Donald E. Stanford spoke about this poem as a whole: "‘Sunday Morning' is today considered to be one of Stevens' most important poems, and many believe it to be the greatest poem written by an American poet in the 20th
century." (Donald E. Stanford, "Sunday Morning: Overview")
Wallace Stevens was a unique man who had a style completely set apart from anyone else. He wrote about many different subjects, from the very realistic matter of war, to the very
feigned notions of the imagination. His poetry is based on life experiences and influenced by people and events which he encountered. Still, what makes his life and poetry so interesting and unique is the fact that he was a well-to-business man as well as a beautiful poet. He was
the rationalist in the sombrero.
Wallace Stevens died in 1955, but his poetry has lived on to inspire his many readers and fans. Like many great poets, his work is relevant even today. His words remain powerful, even if he is no longer here to speak them:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
- "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
(Collected Poems p. 92-95)

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