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Wallace Stevens : Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America) Hardcover – October 1, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Library Journal

This outstanding volume collects for the first time all of Stevens's published poetry, along with his writings about poetry plus reviews, criticism, speeches, short stories, and philosophical works. It also contains scholarly notes on the text plus an index to first lines and titles. Undoubtedly, the single finest collection of Stevens ever produced. Essential for all collections.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 96)
  • Hardcover: 1030 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; Reprint edition (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883011450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883011451
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Wallace Stevens is one of those rare writers who had a golden touch with words. "Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose" not only brings together several collections and uncompiled poems, but also selections from his journals, essays and letters. And in all of these, he showed himself to be a thoughtful, intelligent and very talented man.

Over his lifetime, Stevens wrote several books of poetry, but his exquisite poems are best taken by themselves: the lush grandeur of "Sunday Morning," the hymnlike "Le Monocle De Mon Oncle," and the humid grittiness of "O Florida, Venereal Soil." He takes multiple looks at "Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird," and the lush "Six Significant Landscapes."

In other poems, Stevens dips into outright surrealism, like in the delicate "Tattoo" ("There are filaments of your eyes/On the surface of the water/And in the edges of the snow"), and also adds a meditative bent into "The Snow Man" ("For the listener, who listens in the snow,/And, nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is").

But Stevens was a man of many talents -- there is a trio of one-act plays, erudite and a bit whimsical, and which have his usual thoughts on art and poetry woven into some of their passages. It is followed by the essay collection "The Necessary Angel," which reflects on the nature of imagination, poetry, art, and the role of the poet in a society. His "uncollected" prose is not so tight -- there are literary experiments, snippets of atmospheric fiction, and sprawling essays on all sorts of subjects ("Cattle Kings of Florida"?). Even included are acceptance speeches and sound bites, like an enlightening little nugget on Walt Whitman.
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Format: Hardcover
Wallace Stevens is my favorite poet. This Library of America collection is to be preferred as a source of his writing: it includes a number of additional poems relative to his Collected Poems (including the controversial long poem "Owl's Clover"), as well as alternate versions of some poems, juvenilia, and also Stevens's essays.

Stevens is known, it seems to me, in two separate ways. In the popular sense, he is known for a series of remarkable early poems, in most cases not terribly long, notable for striking images and quite beautiful prosody. Of these poems the most famous is surely "Sunday Morning" -- other examples are "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", "Peter Quince at the Clavier", "Sea Surface Full of Clouds", "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon", "The Emperor of Ice Cream", "The Idea of Order at Key West", "Of Modern Poetry". The great bulk of these come from his first collection, Harmonium, and indeed from the first edition of Harmonium, published in 1923. These were certainly my favorite among his poems on first reading. And they remain favorites.

But his critical reputation rests strikingly on a completely different set of poems, all later than those mentioned above. (Though it must be acknowledged that at least "Sunday Morning" and "The Idea of Order at Key West" as well as two early long poems, "The Comedian as the Letter C" and "The Monocle de Mon Oncle", are in general highly regarded critically. And that most of his early work is certainly treated with respect.)

I think it's fair to say that "late Stevens" begins with "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction", perhaps his most highly regarded work. Of course the terms "late" and "early" are odd applied to Stevens. His first successful poems appeared in 1915 (including "Sunday Morning"), when he was 36.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I want to offer a quick word about the Library of America edition - it is fantastic! I hesitated to buy this work because of its length (1000+ pages), but Library of America has somehow fit all this material into a modestly-sized volume that is literally not much larger or heavier than my "Selected Works of Wallace Stevens" of 300 pages! They were able to achieve this without using onion paper - it seems to be a durable bond, and is very pleasing.

This is an edition of verse and prose that I will treasure for a long time.
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Format: Hardcover
I find reading Wallace Stevens a wonderfully strange and rewarding experience. The words all seem familiar and yet when I ask myself what exactly has been said, specifics become elusive. Let us leave aside awful writers whose opaqueness is all they have to offer. Great writers are often difficult, but for various reasons. Some writers are difficult because their vision is so personal: William Blake for instance. Reading some authors is difficult because of cultural remove. To the extent that Shakespeare is difficult he can become readily understandable simply by reading him enough. The strangeness of the language falls away with familiarity and Shakespeare's endless depths become viewable if still unreachable.

Stevens is difficult for several other reasons. First, he uses language differently. The images he uses and creates are not the point of his work. Rather, they are a means of connotation and require some digging and wrestling. It is the accretion of direct and attached meaning that gives his poetry its full weight. Second, at times there is no direct meaning - it is about the sound and the sense of an image without actually being able to label it. For example, what exactly is a firecat or a buck clattering over Oklahoma? You think you know, but once you start asking yourself for a definition you can't find one. You can make it up, but what is the point? It is really the sound and sense of meaning that matters here. Also, he does have a cultural context that we assume is current enough that we share it with him. Actually, it is a time with certain assumptions and intellectual fads that have passed without a trace. Not being aware of them can add an unnecessary obscurity.

But it is all worth it.
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