Sunday, October 02, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mr. Stevens ...

Wallace Stevens was born on this date in 1879, in Reading, Pa. I am unusually fond of his poetry. Every year I manage to read most of The Collected Poems. How, as a native Philadelphian, can I not like the poet of these lines:

Only the rich remember the past,
The strawberries once in the Apennines,
Philadelphia that the spiders ate.

If you read Stevens's Collected Poems from start to finish, one finds him arriving at rather a serene state, tinged with melancholy, perhaps, but wise, intimating over and over that life cannot be reduced to its constituent ingredients.
The earlier poems delight, but the later ones edify. Here's one of the last:

The Planet on the Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.


  1. John Updike, another famous writer from Berks County, paid homage to Stevens in "Rabbit is Rich," using lines from "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" as one of the two epigraphs to that novel.

  2. "Randall Jarrell . . . observed that '[Wallace] Stevens did what no other American poet has ever done, what few poets have ever done: wrote some of his best and newest and strangest poems during the last year or two of a very long life.'"

    Quoted ". . .from David W. Galenson's forthcoming Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity" here: