Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose

 
9780614294187: Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose

“Undoubtedly, the single finest collection of Wallace Stevens ever produced.” — Library Journal

Wallace Stevens’s unique voice combined meditative speculation and what he called “the essential gaudiness of poetry” in a body of work of astonishing profusion and exuberance, poems that have remained an inspiration and influence for generations of poets and readers. Now, for the first time, the works of America’s supreme poet of the imagination are collected in one authoritative Library of America volume.

Here are all of Stevens’s published books of poetry, side-by-side for the first time with the haunting lyrics of his later years and early work that traces the development of his art. From the rococo inventiveness of Harmonium, his first volume (including such classics as “Sunday Morning” and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”), through “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “Esthétique du Mal,” “The Auroras of Autumn,” and the other large-scale masterpieces of his middle years, to the austere final poems of “The Rock,” Stevens’s poetry explores with unrelenting intensity the relation between the world and the human imagination, between nature as found and nature as invented, and the ways poetry mediates between them. The volume presents over ninety poems uncollected by Stevens, including early versions of often-discussed works like “The Comedian as the Letter C” and “Owl’s Clover.”

Also here is the most comprehensive selection of Stevens’s prose writings. The Necessary Angel (1951), his distinguished book of essays, joins nearly fifty shorter pieces, many previously uncollected: reviews, speeches, short stories, criticism, philosophical writings, and responses to the work of T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and other poets. The often-dazzling aphorisms Stevens gathered over the years are included, as are his plays and selections from his poetic notebooks. Rounding out the volume is a fifty-year span of journal entries and letters, newly edited from manuscript sources, which provide fascinating glimpses of Stevens’s thoughts on poetry and the creative process.

The volume also contains explanatory notes, a detailed chronology of Stevens’ life, and an essay on textual selection.

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Review:

Born in Pennsylvania in 1879, Wallace Stevens spent his adult life working in the rigorously non-poetic insurance business. Yet his poetry, most of which he wrote after his 50th birthday, is anything but mundane. Rather, Stevens stuffed his work with the brilliant bric-a-brac of a dozen cultures, celebrating (for example) the "dark Brazilians in their cafes,/Musing immaculate, pampean dits" or the way "that old Chinese/Sat tittivating by their mountain pools/Or in the Yangtse studied out their beards." Stevens wasn't, however, a simple collector of souvenirs. A magpie with a mission, he used the peculiar music of his poetry to investigate grand philosophical dilemmas. What was the distinction between appearance and reality? Does an aesthetic artifact such as a poem bring us any closer to the real? (He seemed to answer the latter question, at least provisionally, by declaring that "the poem is the cry of its occasion/Part of the res itself and not about it.") The Collected Poetry & Prose brings together all of Stevens's published books, including such classic poems as "The Man with the Blue Guitar," "Sunday Morning," and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." There's also a generous sampling of his essays, speeches, letters, and miscellaneous prose. These riches confirm the enormous reach of Stevens's imagination, but they also remind us that for all his internationalism, he remained very much a product of his native soil. As he confessed in a 1948 letter, "I like to hold on to anything that seems to have a definite American past even though the American trees may be growing by the side of queer Parthenons set, say, in the neighborhood of Niagara Falls."

From the Back Cover:

Here are all of Stevens' published books of poetry, side-by-side for the first time with the haunting lyrics of his later years and early work that traces the development of his art. From the rococo inventiveness of Harmonium, his first volume (including such classics as "Sunday Morning", "Peter Quince at the Clavier", and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"), through "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction", "Esthetique du Mal", "The Auroras of Autumn", and the other large-scale masterpieces of his middle years, to the austere final poems of "The Rock", Stevens' poetry explores with unrelenting intensity the relation between the world and the human imagination, between nature as found and nature as invented, and the ways poetry mediates between them. This volume presents over a hundred poems uncollected by Stevens, including early versions of often discussed works like "The Comedian as the Letter C" and "Owl's Clover". Also here is the most comprehensive selection available of Stevens' prose writings. The Necessary Angel (1951), his distinguished book of essays, joins nearly fifty shorter pieces, many previously uncollected: reviews, speeches, short stories, criticism, philosophical writings, and responses to the work of Eliot, Moore, Williams, and other poets. The often dazzling aphorisms Stevens gathered over the years are included, as are his plays and selections from his poetic notebooks. Rounding out the volume is a fifty-year span of journal entries and letters, newly edited from manuscript sources, which provide fascinating glimpses of Stevens' thoughts on poetry and the creative process.

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