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Wallace Stevens Biography

(1879–1955), Harmonium, Ideas of Order, The Man with the Blue Guitar, Notes, Auroras of Autumn

imagination collections poetry supreme

American poet, born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and at New York University Law School. After working as a lawyer in New York, in 1916 he joined the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, of which he was Vice-President from 1934 until his death. Harmonium (1923), his remarkably assured first collection of poetry, drew little acclaim from the critics of the day; Stevens retained a special regard for the book, which is rich in what he termed ‘the essential gaudiness of poetry’, a phrase suggesting the colourful imagery, wit, and flamboyance of gesture displayed by much of his writing. With the exception of an expanded edition of Harmonium produced in 1931, he published no further collections until Ideas of Order in 1935. A more purposeful tone emerged in this volume, which formalized his enduring preoccupation with relations between the creative imagination and objective reality, a theme achieving memorable expression in ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’. Several further collections included The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), Notes toward a Supreme Fiction (1942), Auroras of Autumn (1950), and Collected Poems (1954). Opus Posthumous (1957, revised and enlarged 1990) contains three plays in addition to numerous essays and many previously unpublished poems. Stevens's work successfully combines aspects of Romanticism, notably his identification of the imagination as the supreme human faculty, with an exploratory attitude to aesthetics and philosophy characteristic of Modernism. Marianne Moore's remark on his ‘infallible mastery of pause and tone’ indicates the deftness and poise evident throughout his poetry, which is equally accomplished in conventional metres and highly disciplined free verse. His principal prose work is The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and Imagination (1960). Holly Stevens, his daughter, edited Selected Letters (1966). The two volumes of Joan Richardson's biography of Stevens were published in the USA in 1986 and 1988. See also Symbolism.

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