Talk:Wallace Stevens

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The Stevens Marriage[edit]

There is indeed evidence for the Stevens's marriage turning "cold and distant." I direct your attention to Joan Richardson's 2-volume biography. -Hydriotaphia 03:43, 19 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Biography is largely gossip. Unless Ms Richardson has receipts for years of marriage counselling I think we're still entitled to be skeptical about this assertion. It's also, and this is the important point, irrelevant to Stevens's public stature. But it seems to be part of the Stevens myth, and if Wikipedia is about anything it's about mythmaking about public figures, so it might as well stay in. The Emperor of Ice Cream 16:08, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)
P. S. Anyone named Hydriotaphia is OK with me, though.
Thank you for your kind comment about my name. But how seriously have you considered the implications of your own argument above?
Don't you think there are other modes of evidence than "receipts for years of marriage counselling" to substantiate a claim that a marriage turned cold and distant? Richardson talked to Holly Stevens, the poet's daughter. Don't you think she was in a good position to determine the state of her parents' marriage? Visitors to the house confimed what Holly Stevens had to say. We can't be metaphysically certain that the marriage was cold and distant, but doesn't that strike you as pretty convincing evidence? Finally—I just can't agree with you that biography is "largely gossip." I guess it depends on your definition of gossip, but if gossip is the circulation of a story without substantiated facts to confirm it, then a good biography isn't gossip, because a good biography relies on historical evidence. Richardson's biography is not the most illustrious example of its genre, but it's not Kitty Kelley, either. I can't figure out why relying on Richardson seems so odd to you. Respectful regards, Hydriotaphia 19:53, Jan 26, 2005 (UTC)
If the evidence is what J. Richardson says H. Stevens said, then the qualification "reputedly" is entirely appropriate. However, I will be consulting the Richardson biography as soon as I can (the only free copies I know of in Toronto are non-ciculating ones) and it is possible I will change my mind, or what passes for one. I also would be interested in your opinion of the relevance of the coldness of his marriage, a subject I raised above. Everybody seems to think that sort of thing is worth knowing, but I don't get it. The Emperor of Ice Cream (the server logged me out but it's really me)
I'm not sure what I can say to you to convince you that the coldness of a man's marriage is relevant to a full description of his life; to me it seems self-evident. As for the relevance of the fact to Stevens's work, I think the dissatisfaction produced by his marriage might go a little way—by no means very far—to explain the importance of purely aesthetic concerns to Stevens (i.e., to explain why he wrote like Stevens, not like, say, Browning). It also explains the importance to him of a scene that recurs in his poetry, of a man and a woman meeting at the edge of a field, taken, pretty obviously, from his life (see, for example, the first section of "The Rock")—he must have increasingly treasured the remembrance of the meeting as he and his wife grew apart. Anyway, I hope you'll indulge me, but I think a quote from Samuel Johnson, one of the best biographers in the English language, and, interestingly, the subject of the best biography in the language, is relevant to our discussion:
The general and rapid narratives of history, which involve a thousand fortunes in the business of a day, and complicate innumerable incidents in one great transaction, afford few lessons applicable to private life, which derives its comforts and its wretchedness from the right or wrong management of things which nothing but their frequency makes considerable.... A great part of the time of those who are placed at the greatest distance by fortune, or by temper, must unavoidably pass in the same manner; and though, when the claims of nature are satisfied, caprice, and vanity, and accident begin to produce discriminations and peculiarities, yet the eye is not very heedful, or quick, which cannot discover the same causes still terminating their influence in the same effects.... [T]he business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those perfromances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue.
Hydriotaphia 05:12, Feb 1, 2005 (UTC)
Perhaps we have different ideas about the purpose of the article. For example, I don't think it need provide lessons applicable to private life. And although obviously Stevens' private life affected his poetry, I think the article should go into detail (as in the example you cite) rather than blandly assert that his marriage was cold. I guess that last sentence demonstrates that we may come to agree about this eventually. At the moment I have the flu so will spare you any further ramblings. Just wanted to show my appreciation of your prompt response. Here's a flu-begotten thought – did Johnson's uxorious marriage influence his writing? I suppose someone's considered that somewhere. Before trying to find out, though, I think I'll go lie down. The Emperor of Ice Cream 21:14, 2 Feb 2005 (UTC)
I should add that I like this article, and the inclusion or removal of "reputedly" will not affect my admiration. If you've seen my user page you know I took my name because Wikipedia seems to me a stunning example of be being finale of seem. This article isn't an example of that, though. The Emperor of Ice Cream

I am also going to remove some of the hyperlinks, especially those in the poetry, where they detract enormously from the article. And some of the hyperlinks, and I say this in good faith and with respect, are simply ridiculous. -Hydriotaphia 03:46, 19 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Wow! The worldview section is really overdone and bad. Most of what seems necessary for the article was present in the poetry section prior to the addition of the worldview section. Maybe his conversion to Christianity on his deathbed should be mentioned also.

Wow! The worldview section is really overdone and bad. Most of what seems necessary for the article was present in the poetry section prior to the addition of the worldview section. Maybe his conversion to Christianity on his deathbed should be mentioned also.

Cast Away[edit]

I hesitate to add this without consultation, but Stevens' line "The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself." was used in the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. I'd like to add that to the article. From what work is it taken? -- Finlay McWalter | Talk July 9, 2005 00:32 (UTC)

. . . For my own use, I've scanned almost all of Stevens' work (letters, juvenilia, poetry, though not his essays) for the purpose of digital searches. I couldn't find the line you’re looking for. Of course, the kinds of scans I make do with are not perfect, so there’s still a chance. If I turn up anything, I’ll post it. –Stephen Perry (

Ever heard of Clifton Hoban?[edit]

An article about a poet named Clifton Hoban was created by a non-logged in author, and it was a fairly bad stub. A few people started fixing it up a little bit, which is fine, but then one person questioned whether we had been taken in by a hoax. A search for Mr. Hoban revealed a stunning lack of references to the poet. The article claims that Wallace Stevens was his friend. I am hoping some Wallace Stevens experts here might want to corroborate or repudiate that claim.
--GraemeMcRae 00:37, 16 October 2005 (UTC)

I'll take that as a "no". The article was a hoax, and has now been deleted.—GraemeMcRaetalk 22:03, 30 October 2005 (UTC)

Stevens's atheism[edit]

To put it bluntly, there is nothing clearer about Stevens than his atheism. Whoever inserted "citation needed," and then pointed to "Sunday Morning"—"Sunday Morning," of all places—needs to reread the very poem he or she is citing. Take a look, for example, at the fourth stanza, where Stevens, speaking to the female protagonist of the poem, says:

There is not any haunt of prophesy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

(Lines 51-60, emphasis added.) If, however, you must have a quote from Stevens's prose, here is something from a 1940 letter to Hi Simons: "It is a habit of mind with me to be thinking of some substitute for religion. . . . My trouble, and the trouble of a great many people, is the loss of belief in the sort of God in Whom we were all brought up to believe" (quoted on p. 966 of Collected Poetry and Prose). I happen to think that atheism is not the best word for Stevens's unbelief. However, it is the closest one-word summary that I can think of. If you can think of a better one, I encourage you to substitute it. Until then, though, I think the article should continue to use the word "atheism." Nonetheless, I will add a citation. Respectfully, Hydriotaphia 06:31, 28 November 2005 (UTC)

good points, though as best I can remember the different stanzas of Sunday morning took different views on religion. I added the notice, not because I wished to challenge the assertion, but simply because I though a citation would be needed for such a strong statement. Thanks for the info, Dsol 10:48, 28 November 2005 (UTC)
  • Hydriotaphia, with all due respect to Dsol (and you), and putting it bluntly, I thought it was I who in the comment requested evidence for the assertion that Stevens was an atheist. In any case, I'm the one who provided the extracts from Stevens' poems.
  • Sunday Morning" is not a poem for easy interpretation, and it's certainly not a proof text for Stevens' atheism, if only because Stevens was of all poets the most careful to distinguish the persona of his poems from his reclusive self. Nor does an extract from Stevens' letters prove the point. Indeed, the very passage you quoted underscores something in Stevens very unlike atheism.
  • There's a passage I like from Patricia Storace's poem "Pagan Litany," published 12 Jan. 2006 in The New York Review of Books: "Sustain us in belief, protect us with doubt." The poem begins: "Unknown gods we drove away, we invoke you. You who are not named, but are not nameless, Pardon our arrogance. Return to us. Let the myriad altars we destroyed surge up again, Ocean of gods, and lave ... [1]. It's a poem of yearning, certainly not for that which can't be honestly accepted -- the crudeness of literalism or historicism -- but for something for which the speaker feels a most profound need: something like the gods, their power, their comfort, their splendor, their life.
  • I find something very similar in Stevens. That yearning, that seeking, that agony and despair of finding, is at the heart of Stevens' poetry. Over and over he says that for such an object of desire to be real, it must be a fiction. By the power of imagination and the magic (perhaps) of words, man must be in part the maker of this supreme fiction. It must be infused with humanity. Otherwise, it is useless, static, dead. It's not that such a thing doesn't exist; it must exist. It must be found or made. The stance Stevens takes in his poems is precisely not that the question of "god" is uninteresting or unimportant or ignorable or settled by science or any other agency.
  • From the atheism article: "Additionally, there are atheists who are religious or spiritual, though many of these would not describe themselves as atheists." The quest expressed in Stevens' poems is like a a passionate intellectual religious pilgrimage in search of That Which Is. It is aligned at almost every point with religious belief, Christian and pagan, which it cannot accept at the face value commonly offered in culture. But it never dismisses it (a-theism); rather, it is always engaged, seriously and humanistically, with this belief; it is always a search for some kind of "faith" in... what?
  • That such a quest is so highly visible in Steven's work is my case. I will be interested in your response. BTW, I don't think that the argument can or should be carried to the encyclopedia article itself. I call rather for the removal entirely of the reference to athheism. --Halcatalyst 03:26, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
for not lightly dismissing Stevens, and his work, as atheistic. Ummm...that' a rather revealing and extraordinaily POV comment, don't you think?? Indeed, it is precidely Steven's atheism as expressed more powerfully and unambiguosuly in Sunday Morning than I've ever head such a thing expressed. with the excpetion of Nietzche (by whom we all know that Stevens was strongly influenced), that motivate s me to read is poems. E.g. these lines are clear enough to an eight-year old:
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be the ::blood of paradise?
That is, are we inadequate to the task of creating meaning for ourselves out of the power of our own imaginations and our own experiences without having to rely on the supernatural mystical nonsense that tradtional beleifs have handed down to us.
And shall the earth be all of pardise that we shall know? The sky will be much friendlier then than now, a part of labor and a part of pain not this dividing and indifferent blue.
Also, from Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour:
" We say God and the imaginaton are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.
Out of this same light, out of the central mind
WE CREATE a dwelling in the evening air,in which being there together is enough.
There is more such material throughout the poems. WE create god,paradise, and all the other beautiful but unreal illusions ("gli ameni inganni" of Leopardi) from our imagination and it is this latter which should be praised and glorified in its finiteness and impermanence:
Death is the mother of beauty. Hecne from her alone shall come fullfilment to our dreams and our desires.... Is there no change of death in paradise? Does ripe fruit never fall.
The innevitable prospect of annihilation ( the facing of this fundamental fact) and not the serach for some cowardly escape, is what gives VALUE and MEANING to the small, fleeting acts of concrete human exsitence.
This is profoundly inspiring stuff. If I believed that Steven's were not an ateheist, I would not find the solace, conslation and insight that I do in his works.
Please leave it alone. Why do you religionists have to go around making everything and everyone over in your own image? Aren't the gospels and all the other religious literature that dominates Western civilization enough for you??
Finally, thanks for pointing me to the POV article on atheism. There's a great deal of work to be done on many, many philosophy artciles and this is obviously another one in drastic need of attention becasue of its profoundly inaccurate representation of what it means to be an atheist. --Lacatosias 10:10, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
  • Your quotes support the point I was making, that (as was said about Spinoza), Stevens was god-intoxicated, though he was certainly not a believer in any conventional sense. Neither was he a "believer" in atheism. He was a seeker. --Halcatalyst 14:38, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
The phrase believer in atheism is an oxymoron. To be an a-theist is to not believe the truth of the proposition that "God exists". To be an an a-Santa Clausist is to not believe the truth of the statement that "Santa Claus exists." I am convinced that Steven's (at least in his early period) was an a-theist in this sense. Just as I am. And I don't think he was god-intoxicated any more than Richard Dawkins is god-intoxiated just because he addresses the question of religion very freqently (in his case to denigrate and try to logically annihilate it). Yet no one would say that Dawkins is a closet "believer" for all that. I don't know if the word "atheist" belongs in the article, but "seeker" is far worse. To seek is a transitive verb that needs an object. Richard Dawkins seeks knowledge of biology or what have you. What does Wallace Stevens seek? It's much less clear. Putting in the word "seeker", since it has traditional mystical connotations, strongly suggests that he's seeking something supernatural. Yet this is far from clear. He may be seeking happiness, wisdon, beauty, truth, the right words, a creative image in the mind, self-development andp psychological well-being. Agnosticism is no good because, as I always like to point out to beginning philosophy students, we are all agnostics with respect to such things as the existence of god. A-gnostic just means "I don't know". Unless someone has knowldge of something which, by some defintions anyway, is inherently unknowable, then everyone is an agnostic.
I'm getting carried away. But, while on the one hand, I can see the legitimaicy of the objection to the use of the word atheist, on the other I have always felt Stevens to be an atheist struggling with the problem of existence without any god or godesses. This my own position and I identity myself as an atheist. --Lacatosias 15:18, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
  • We have an honest difference of opinion, which is not so unusual (!) in literary interpretation. Of course it would be possible to argue the question further. I enjoy intellectual discussions, but I'm always more interested in light than heat. Heck, in a debate I would argue either side. Without doubt, a strong case can be made that Stevens' poems show him to be an atheist. As long as we're arguing out of what he wrote, and not reading into it, I'm good to go. If the argument is impassioned, all the better, as long as at the end we can shake hands. IOW, to keep it honest, we try not to let our personal or emotional investment trump the intellectual argument. That is what scholarly investigation and scientific research mean to me.
  • That's why I urge you to support the motion (below) to remove the questionable assertion of Stevens' atheism and the equally questionable reference to his supposed deathbed conversion to Christianity.
  • If you'd like to read a poet who is truly atheistic, I'd recommend Shelley. He was expelled from Cambridge for writing and circulating a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. But you won't find much atheism expressed in his poetry. Poetry can be philosophical, but it is not really a very good vehicle for any kind of ideology, political, religious, or otherwise. --Halcatalyst 03:35, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

That Stevens was an atheist is not a controversial statement. But he typically didn't argue for the non-existence of god. He saw the "Death of God" as a foregone conclusion and worked this assumption into almost every poem he wrote. Call him an unbeliever if the term atheist doesn't feel right. But he was an atheist and his atheism was inseparable from his poetry. Without the presumption of atheism, almost none of his poetry could have been written. [Note: I am a bit lazy in looking up the proper citation style ]

-- Quotes --

In Adagia, [Stevens’s aphorisms], he goes to far as to say that poetry is ‘life’s redemption’ after belief in God is no longer possible.” (Lives of the Poets, Michael Schmidt, 705)

“. . . the scope of Stevens’s mind … is roughly coextensive with that of the modern mind and sensibility; the range of his reflections, after the death of god, still covers most of what we think of as possible in our condition, a condition Stevens repeatedly calls ‘poverty’. (Wallace Stevens, Frank Kermode, xviii)

This vanishing of the gods, leaving a barren man in a barren land, is the basis of all Stevens’ thought and poetry. His version of the death of the gods coincides with a radical transformation in the way man sees the world.

So, in ‘Sunday Morning,’ the lady’s experience of the dissolution of the gods leaves her living in a world of exquisite particulars, the physical realities of the new world …. This physical world, an endless round of birth, death and the seasons, is more lasting than any interpretation of it. Religions, myths, philosophies, and cultures are all fictions and pass away, but ‘April’s green endures’. (Poets of Reality, J. Hillis Miller, 219-222)

In the Phaedrus, Plato speaks of the soul in a figure. [Here Stevens quotes Plato. Plato talks about a charioteer driving winged horses across the sky . . .\ We recognize what Coleridge called Plato’s dear, gorgeous nonsense …. “We suddenly remember that the soul no longer exists and we droop in our flight …. A charioteer driving his chariot across the whole heaven was for Plato precisely what he is for us. He was unreal for Plato as he is for us. Plato, however, could yield himself, was free to yield himself, to this gorgeous nonsense. We cannot yield ourselves. We are not free to yield ourselves.“ (The Necessary Angel, “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words”, Wallace Stevens, 3-4)

-- Citations from Poems --

[Note: CP = Collected Poems]

Nuances on a Theme by Williams (CP 18)

[Stevens is speaking of a distant star whose light is being overwhelmed by the morning sun]

Shine alone, shine nakedly, shine like bronze,

that reflects neither my face nor any inner part

of my being, shine like fire, that mirrors nothing.

Lend no part to any humanity that suffuses

you in its own light.

Be not chimera of morning,

Half-man, half-star.

Be not an intelligence,

Like a widow’s bird

or an old horse.

Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb (CP 56)

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

Disillusionment of Ten O’clock (CP 66)

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

Notice, the speaker is not feeling disillusioned AT 10:00, (two hours to midnight), he is making an argument that systematically disillusions 10:00 (ridding the hour of its illusions). The argument is that our description of metaphysical things pales in its imagination when compared to even the most deranged imagining of reality (an old sailor drunk and asleep dreaming of tigers).

Sunday Morning (CP 66-70)

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

The Death of a Soldier (CP 97)

[When a soldier dies ...]

He does not become a three-days personage,

Imposing his separation,

Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,

As in a season of autumn,

When the wind stops…

[A dead soldier does not act like Jesus, requiring us to celebrate his sacrifice, he just dies.]

Anatomy of a Monotony (CP 107-108)

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu (CP 127-128)

In a world without heaven to follow, the stops

Would be endings, more poignant than partings, profounder,

And that would be saying farewell, repeating farewell,

Just to be there and to behold.


Just to be there, just to be beheld,

That would be bidding farewell, be bidding farewell.


What is there here but the weather, what spirit

Have I except it comes from the sun?

Botonist on Alp (No. 2) (CP 135)

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

The Men That Are Falling (CP 187,188)

God and all angels, this was his desire,

Whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.


This death was his belief though death is a stone.

This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die.

The Sense of the Sleight-Of-Hand Man

[The entire poem reflects an atheistic point of view]

Esthetique Du Mal (CP 313-326)

The fault lies with an over-human god,

Who by sympathy has made himself a man

And is not to be distinguished, when we cry

Because we suffer, our oldest parent, peer

Of the populace of the heart, the reddest lord,

Who has gone before us in experience.

If only he would not pity us so much,

Weaken our fate, relieve us of woe both great

And small, a constant fellow in destiny,

A too, too human god, self-pity’s kin

And uncourageous genesis . . . It seems

As if the health of the world might be enough.


How cold the vacancy

When the phantoms are gone and the shaken realist

First sees reality…

Flyer’s Fall (CP 336)

This man escaped the dirty fates,

Knowing that he died nobly, as he died.

Darkness, nothingness of human after-death,

Receive and keep him in the deepnesses of space –

Profundum, physical thunder, dimension in which

We believe without belief, beyond belief.

Burghers of Petty Death (CP 362)

These two by the stone wall

Are a slight part of death.

The grass is still green.

But there is a total death,

A devastation, a death of great height

And depth, covering all surfaces,

Filling the mind.

These are the small townsmen of death,

a man and a woman, like two leaves

That keep clinging to a tree,

Before winter freezes and grows black –

Of great height and depth

Without any feeling, an imperium of quiet

In which a wasted figure, with an instrument

Propounds blank final music.

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (CP 380-381)

You must become an ignorant man again

And see the sun again with an ignorant eye

And see it clearly in the idea of it.

Never suppose an inventing mind as source

Of this idea nor for the mind compose

A voluminous master folded in his fire.

How clean the sun when seen in its idea

Washing in the remotest cleanliness of a heaven

That has expelled us and our images . . .


The death of one god is the death of all.

Lebensweisheitspielerei (CP 504-505)

Little by little, the poverty

of autumnal space becomes

A look, a few words spoken.

Each person completely touches us

With what he is and as he is,

In the stale grandeur of annihilation.

[note: I recognize that in this case the image of death is a complex of symbolic meaning and not simply death alone.]

The Rock (CP 525)

It is an illusion that we were ever alive,

Lived in the houses of mothers, arranged ourselves

By our own motions in a freedom of air.

... The houses still stand,

Though they are rigid in rigid emptiness.

Even our shadows, their shadows, no longer remain.

The lives these lived in the mind are at an end.

They never were . . . .

Homanid 05:55, 3 April 2006 (UTC)

As an atheist, Stevens would naturally be attracted to Schopenhauer's philosophy, which he was. The notion of a world that is essentially an unknowing, urging force may have been an influence on some of his poems. 22:23, 5 August 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Why is this cluttered mess present on a discussion page? It is completely inappropriate for a page in what alleges to be connected to an encyclopedia article. This is also true of the entire discussion page, but it is most blatantly true here. The amazing excess of quotations, irrelevant arguments, "novel" interpretations, and long-winded babbling are all a complete embarrassment, and vastly degrade the integrity and communicative ability of the page.
The pith of the article should be decided, included in the article, and then all of this garbage should be cleared so that only the most pressing and active discussions remain. The purpose of this page should be to display the areas where work still needs to be done, not to include an unreadable and uninformative addendum. (Fourthandfifth (talk) 06:14, 2 September 2011 (UTC))
True! And what a wonderful opportunity for you to learn how to archive a talk page! If you're not interested, I'll take care of it sometime. --Fullobeans (talk) 21:10, 2 September 2011 (UTC)

       "Sunday Morning" has clear atheistic and hedonistic themes and is great starting point for an understanding of Stevens' early 

religious views(as portrayed in his poetry, or by his persona): it denies the existence of God, of fate, of Heaven, and of a more-than-natural Jesus, urging its listeners to create--like the early Christians created the Bible, or Wallace Stevens himself created his atheistic/hedonistic philosophy-- by acts of imagination a hedonistic religion/philosophy that celebrates people and place, which is "all of heaven that [we] will know". And what would you know?

   It's just one of many poems in Harmonium to contain such themes, which don't change too much as you go through Stevens' catalog  (though he begins to focus more on the imagination proper, and less on his issues with old edifices of imagination, like Christianity).
      Anyone who argues against the presence of atheism in Stevens' work, or even doubts its presence, doesn't know or doesn't understand Stevens' work. Next.  — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:39, 16 November 2011 (UTC) 

unless you hate poetry, don't cite it as support for something else-- and in that case, why not stick to the Op-Ed page? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:54, 12 July 2012 (UTC)

In deciding whether to call Stevens an atheist, we ought to take into account his own statement in a letter to Sister Bernetta Quinn, Dec. 21, 1951: "I am not an atheist although I do not believe to-day in the same God in whom I believed when I was a boy" (Letters of Wallace Stevens, p. 735). (talk) 23:23, 19 February 2014 (UTC)

Stevens poems[edit]

I'm relatively new to the 'Pedia (started about two weeks ago), but I'm fairly certain that there is a rule somewhere that source texts should NOT be posted on Wikipedia but on Wikisource and that, of course, only on the condition that it doesn't violate copyright.

I have therefore deleted the references to poems and so forth. I would be more than glad to scan in, copyedit and post all of the poems that are not copyrighted over on Wikisource. However, I must still figure out how to do that. I'm also not sure about the copyright status of Stevens' work. Talk to me folks!! --Lacatosias 14:36, 4 January 2006 (UTC)

US copyright law specifically allows fair use. This is commonly construed as short passages and extracts. There might be a question if the complete text of "Sunday Morning," for example, were published, but not a dozen or two lines. (All original work, whether or not published, whether or not registered with the copyright office, is protected by copyright in the US.) --Halcatalyst 03:34, 22 February 2006 (UTC)


Well, I don't know about the actual copyright status, but they're all out there floating around on the Web.--Lacatosias 10:07, 16 January 2006 (UTC)

I don't understand why even in the Section called "Supreme Fiction" Steven's "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction" is not mentioned. I think that poem like many of his others should be treated in an article of its own. I intend to begin working on that. George Wolff 17:54, 14 October 2016 (UTC)wolffgGeorge Wolff 17:54, 14 October 2016 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Wolffg (talkcontribs)

Editors Poll[edit]

It is proposed that the following paragraph, with its footnote, be deleted from the article:

Stevens was very much an atheist,2 and his poetry has a strong atheistic undercurrent, as in "The Man with the Blue Guitar": "Poetry // Exceeding music must take the place / Of empty heaven and its hymns."

Please state your reasons, for or against, and sign your name (four tildes).

FOR. This statement, essentially a private interpretation, violates the NPOV policy. Moreover, the place for the discussion of such assertions is in the scholarly literature. It is not suitable for an encyclpedia article. --Halcatalyst 02:42, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

AGAINST. The religious views (or lack thereof) of a poet as expressed in his poetry, and as background for understanding his poetry, are very much who he was as a poet. That said, I'm not against revising the paragraph to remove any lingering POV that might be there. The other footnote, describing his deathbed conversion to Catholicism, corroborates his lack of religious devotion during his lifetime, but doesn't go so far as to support the allegation that he was an atheist. Absent independent evidence of this, the paragraph should be changed to say that he was not a religious man, and instead looked to philosophy (be specific if possible) for the meaning of life. Note: I'm not advocating that we do any original research (another no-no), but rather that we state the information about Stevens that is available from independent sources about the man.—GraemeMcRaetalk 02:37, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

  • I certainly can accept this. Hmmm... a big black AGAINST followed by a a concession and in fact a modest proposal for change.... =P . --Halcatalyst 21:51, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

For but conditional on two things: the term atheist be replaced by something like "Stevens strongly rejected traditional forms of religion". Period. This much can certainly be supported by his public statement cited by Hydriotaphia and his poetry. Second, the reference to his deathbed conversion, which is based exclusively on the interested testimony of a Catholic priest should be eliminated from the article. Under any other circumstances, srongly against.--Lacatosias 07:59, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

  • I can accept this too. --Halcatalyst 21:51, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

Agree with Lacatosias, except I think we should keep the reference to his alleged deathbed conversion; it is, after all, only described as alleged. Hydriotaphia 15:05, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, I could live with that.--Lacatosias 16:28, 25 February 2006 (UTC)
  • Actually, I never thought this allegation was very important in understanding Stevens' poetry. To make a deal of it is absurd because Stevens is far from being a Confessional poet, and it is post-hoc anyhow. It has relevance to Stevens' life, of course, as does the discussion of his marriage. It's very interesting that Holly Stevens edited his letters and maintained close control over what was made known about his life. We can't cover everything in the encyclopedia article; but on the other hand, I was surprised when I first saw it was so short. This is a major poet. Maybe we can work together to make it more substantial. --Halcatalyst 21:51, 25 February 2006 (UTC)
I don't know what your point is. If it's relevant to his life, is presented as an allegation only, and no connections are made between it and his poetry, I see no problem with it. Hydriotaphia 21:57, 25 February 2006 (UTC)
  • I'm saying that because it is merely alleged it's unwise to mention it in a general context, which is what we're about. Really, it's just a bit of sensationalism.
  • Here's something that was really relevant to his life: roses. Look it up. But we don't include that. Why not? --Halcatalyst 16:15, 26 February 2006 (UTC)
A good friend of mine who knows a great deal about the law used to tell me that if I wanted to get away with saying just about anything about just about anybody, just prefix the third-person phrase "It is alleged that..." before the accusation, slander, lie or whatever you want to call it. I don't know. On the one hand, there are numerous artciles in which it is often necessary to balance one side with another by stating somethijg like, e.g., "Hogentsterm alleges or suggests that Pius XII stated his implicit tolerance of Hitler but Frodentren says that this is contradcited by..." etc.. On the other hand, as I suggested above, it is alleged that could go on ad infintitum. The real problem in this case is that we have only the word of somone who has an obvious interest in propagating a certain religious creed. I aslo think Halcatalyst has a point in that Steven's did not seem either particualrly religious or particularly non-religious. The artcile seems to get a little bogged down in the question.--Lacatosias 16:40, 26 February 2006 (UTC)
Yes, I don't see any problem with removing all references to religion or atheism altogether—that is, all such references as appear in the "Life" section. However, because poetry-as-a-substitute-for-religious-consolation is such an important subject in Stevens's poetry, I emphatically believe that that subject should not be removed from any discussion of his art. And, for Pete's sake, if we are going to discuss the role of religious consolation in Stevens's poetry, let's be comprehensible. Hydriotaphia 20:09, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Remove I think it's a bit of an oversimplification and it's clearly a case of OR. There are lots of biographies on Stevens, so if anyone wants it to stay in so much, go to your local library and get a citation. I think citing The Man with the blue guitar is an especially bad way of showing Stevens' views, since the structure of the poem is so much based in contradictory statements. (You have a blue guitar, you do not play things as they are...Things as they are are changed upon the blue guitar) Dsol 16:54, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

Can you explain, by reference to the WP:NOR page, why it's original research? Thanks, Hydriotaphia 19:57, 25 February 2006 (UTC)

The statement in question is amateurish and shouldn't be in the article. That said, we should certainly say something about his religious views. I seem to recall that "Sunday Morning" was meant as a kind of post-Christian poem. john k 19:17, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Also, why on earth is this a vote? This seems like a matter which could easily be resolved by discussion and consensus-building - votes should only be undertaken if consensus seems impossible to attain, which does not seem to be the case here, since everyone seems to be moving towards agreement. john k 19:19, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

  • My hope was that there'd be discussion and movement toward consensus. --Halcatalyst 22:15, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

For, (if we're still voting). It's a kind of pre-interpretation that I don't think is very helpful. But Stevens' religious skepticism is fair game.Bjones 20:34, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

  • As a theme in his poetry, one could certainly discuss religion: Stevens fills his poems with direct and indirect allusions. And one could point out expressions of skepticism, though not the sort of dismissive skepticism one might call atheism. And it’s both important and fair to recognize that Stevens himself was certainly not a Christian, or religious in any way, during most of his life.
  • But I don’t think religion is the question. When you put it in that context, you’re talking about churches and behavior and beliefs. You’re talking about a powerful institution. Stevens didn’t care about all that. He was after something else: something I would call spiritual or holy (in spite of the fact you can also joke about it, and sometimes you need to). Yes, I’m talking about searching for the meaning of life. We know that what he came to in his poetic maturity was the idea of a Supreme Fiction, and that this was something both totally earthy and abstract. That’s what we need to explain to readers. --Halcatalyst 22:41, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Done. There is now a much fuller discussion of Steven's poetry, including his central idea of "Supreme Fiction." The separate section of extracts is gone. --Halcatalyst 19:33, 28 February 2006 (UTC)

Why the excerpts?[edit]

To change the subject a little, I don't understand why we've included longish excerpts of his poetry. They don't help anyone who isn't already familiar with Stevens's poetry, and two of them, at least, aren't particularly famous examples of his art. (The excerpt from "Sunday Morning" is taken from one of the less famous stanzas, i.e., not the first or the last.) Also, if you check out other Wikipedia entries on poets, none of them, so far as I can tell, include such long excerpts. Does anyone mind if I erase them? They seem awfully otiose. Hydriotaphia 20:16, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

  • I do mind excluding samples of his poetry. I don't mind discussing what excerpts would best illustrate what the poetry is about. --Halcatalyst 22:45, 26 February 2006 (UTC)
But why? I don't understand what excerpts add to a biography, unless they're explained. They should either be worked into the section on his poetry or excluded altogether. Otherwise they're mere adornment—meaningless curlicues. (Exactly the sort of thing Stevens was against, I should say!) Look at the article on W. B. Yeats, which is a featured article. No excerpts, except those that are included in the main text. This is the example we should follow, I think. Hydriotaphia 04:51, 27 February 2006 (UTC)
  • Agreed that excepts should be worked into the article (which I don't see primarily as a biography). --Halcatalyst 14:22, 27 February 2006 (UTC)
OK; so would you mind if, in the interim, I erase the excerpts? Hydriotaphia 16:15, 27 February 2006 (UTC)
I'm going to (now) rewrite the Poetry section and try to include the excerpts (or similar ones) there. See what you think. --Halcatalyst 13:58, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
There is enough criticism on his major poems to justify seperate articles. If I had access to an English language library, I'd do it myself. Until someone can, though, I think excerpts do belong in here. Dsol 14:14, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
But your comment presupposes exactly what I am arguing for. If there were separate articles on Stevens's major poems, there would be exegesis of those poems. Here, there is no exegesis of the excerpts. The excerpts—in their current form—do not, then, act as a substitute for separate articles. Hydriotaphia 15:13, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
Yeah, it's not ideal having them in without a well sourced critical explanation. I don't really mind if you remove them, and won't revert, but I do think they're better than nothing. Dsol 15:16, 28 February 2006 (UTC)

I think they should be kept in. The better articles about poets include excerpts from their work. Understanding what a poet's style, interests, etc entails reading his or her work. A look at some of the poet's own words communicates a great deal, much more efficiently than a long explanation. Look at the William Butler Yeats page if you want to get a sense -- it uses his words extremely well. The quotations in this article are very well done -- if anything there should be more of them, with appropriate context of course. (PS -- Yeats was a featured article and so is a particularly good model.) Falstaf (talk) 17:25, 22 November 2007 (UTC)


As you can see in the article, I've just gone ahead and subtituted a formulation similar to the one that I used in the talk page for "Steven's atheism", while trying to intermediate beteen Hydriotaphia's idea about Steven's expression of poetry taking the place of relgious consolation and Halcatalyst's feeling that this search consitutes a sort of religious phenomenon in itsef. Also removed the reference to conversion. This seems to have been the general consensus reached on these topics before the hullaballoo about excerpts started up.

As to the latter, I would suggest leaving them in until someone rewrites the relevant section with exegesis and so forth. I am, personally, in the same position as Dsol (no access to library or other resources except the Internet and Italian books or translations) , so I'd prefer to leave that to others, while editing or commenting as best I can.--Lacatosias 17:17, 28 February 2006 (UTC)

The edits seem good to me. Also, by "hullaballoo," are you implying that I'm acting unreasonably? I don't mean to make a big deal about it; I just think it would be better if they were removed, per my comments above. Respectfully, Hydriotaphia 19:24, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
Absolutely not. I just meant that the discussion started off with the topic of "atheism" and "religious conversion", and progress had seemed to be made in that regard, then all of sudden the discussion got carried into other areas. "Hullaballoo was just a bad choice of words. "Sidetracked" was all I meant and I was absolutely not singling out anyone's behavior nor, even, criticism the importance of the discussion. In any case, I withdraw the term. --Lacatosias 08:15, 1 March 2006 (UTC)
No worries! I just wanted to make sure I hadn't pissed you off. Hydriotaphia 04:55, 2 March 2006 (UTC)
  • My complete edit of the Poetry section was a few hours in the making, and it clobbered some of your edits. My apologies. I think there's some way to "hold" a section to prevent this happening, but I don't know how to do it. Of course, now we can all change anything we want.
  • Thanks for the collaboration. It's been enjoyable. --Halcatalyst 19:40, 28 February 2006 (UTC)

Original Research[edit]

I really hate to bring this up, because I genuinely like the page as it is right now, and I more or less agree with its explications and broad themes. But I worry that a lot of the page consists of original research. The page seems to be consistent with a good deal of criticism I've read on Stevens; can we make an effort to include more citations from criticism, so that we are quoting external sources when asserting things such as (for example) "Stevens concludes that god is a human creation, but that feeling of rightness which for so long a time existed with the idea of god may be accessed again"?

The above statement is arguably true, but it should not be Wikipedia that asserts it to be so. (On the other hand, I wouldn't want the page to start to look like a term paper.) --thither 05:06, 11 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree that we should add citations where possible. I wouldn't worry about the "term-paper" look. What is important is that we put the correct citation data in where necessary. As an example to consider, the article on Vincent van Gogh has a large number of citations, but this doesn't significantly interfere with the readability or the look of the article, and no doubt later versions of the Wikipedia software will provide better ways to display and access the copious reference information. Stumps 10:55, 11 August 2006 (UTC)
Yes, it definitely needs references. The main editors on this seem to have been Halcatalyst and Homanid. A good place to start would be to simply ask them for their sources.--Francesco Franco aka Lacatosias 17:31, 12 August 2006 (UTC)
Thither - if the article is consistent with Stevens criticism, then it's not OR. OR would be things that are not consistent with Stevens criticism. Just because something doesn't have citations doesn't make it OR. It just means that it doesn't have citations. Something which is OR is something which couldn't have citations, at least not legitimate ones. It sounds like this article just needs to have citations added. That's not the same thing as an OR problem. john k 03:54, 13 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree that the space given to unsupported opinion should be minimized or avoided. Although I'm guilty of it myself :-D homanid

Reality or Unreality[edit]

A small point (I'm mostly onside with the article). I'd find the following passage more helpful if "unreal" were replaced by "real" or "real in Stevens' favored sense".

As J. H. Miller summarizes Stevens's position, :"Though this dissolving of the self is in one way the end of everything, in another way it is the happy liberation. There are only two entities left now that the gods are dead: man and nature, subject and object. Nature is the physical world, visibile, audible, tangible, present to all the senses, and man is consciousness, the nothing which receives nature and transforms it into something unreal..."

The article has already told us that "[r]eality is the product of the imagination as it shapes the world." This suggests that the self's transformative work issues in reality, not unreality, and that reality is not to be identified with the world or nature (just as an urn is not to be identified with the clay from which it's shaped). The Waldorf isn't Guatemala, but it's not simply unreality. :-) Rats 14:18, 23 September 2006 (UTC)

Hi Rats. The word "unreality" is part of a quote and makes sense in its own way. Miller used unreality to refer to Stevens's idea that people are incapable of truly seeing reality. For Stevens, it's all shades of gray. The best we can do is approach whiteness (reality). Through our efforts to create explanations of the world, we transform reality into something unreal -- i.e. we color the whiteness with at least a little bit of gray. For this reason, Stevens believes that the world is a constant flux, where imaginings created by others and in another time and place tend to grow stale and require us to create something new and more satisfying. A good example of this type of flux would be the how our understanding of the universe has changed over time: From gods who moved as lights in the sky; to a series of spheres with holes in them to let in the light of the firmament; to bodies moving in Ptolemaic epicycles; to kepler's oval's; to Newtonian physics; to Einsteinian physics. I left a bunch of stuff out, but I think it shows the general idea. Even our most successful imaginings (Newtonian physics) may ultimately fail to be satisifactory for future generations.

Reality shapes the world of the viewer (subjective reality), but leaves objective reality untouched and unrealized - and therefore, unreal. Homanid


I added as many citations as I could find from my private Stevens collection. The only thing I couldn't locate in writing was Hart Crane's letter (at the end), but I'm sure if someone has access to his collected letters, it would be easy to find.NielsenGW 20:35, 29 October 2006 (UTC)

Title Casing[edit]

Why is title casing not used? I've noticed that wiki seems to generally be against it, but the lack here is particularly jarring. 17:25, 19 November 2006 (UTC)


how about telling us where he was born, where he grew up, what his parents did etc. thats how a traditional encylopedia entry starts and none of that is here. this article needs cleaned up very badly. —Preceding unsigned comment added by [[User:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]] ([[User talk:{{{1}}}|talk]] • [[Special:Contributions/{{{1}}}|contribs]])

Encyclopedia article or term paper?[edit]

I'm concerned that most of the section called "Poetry" is composed of term-paper style analysis, not encyclopedic information. It "feels" as though it has been cut and pasted from an undergraduate paper on Stevens' poetry. The reader needs to do a lot of work to understand what claims the author is making about Stevens in these excerpts--and isn't making claims inappropriate here? I think almost the entire section should be cut, but I don't know if that's acceptable editing. Thoughts?

This is Wikipedia: if you can improve it, you are invited to do so. If not, what's the point of complaining? Who are you complaining TO, after all? anyone and everyone with an internet connection? --Francesco Franco aka Lacatosias 09:32, 3 May 2007 (UTC)
Wow--that's an unfriendly response. I wasn't complaining, I was holding back from making a major change to an article because I'm new to Wikipedia and didn't want to overstep my boundaries. I thought this section was called "Discussion" because it was a place for, um, that's who I was "complaining" to. Chill, man. 9 May 2007 —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 05:10, 10 May 2007 (UTC).
On a more friendly note, wikipedia encourages you to be bold when editing, so go ahead and do it if you think it will improve the article; if people disagree they can always revert or complain about your edits. I agree that, though the article has improved with respect to sourcing, it still seems like a great deal of original research. I think instead of asserting things about Stevens's poetry, it should maybe summarize some established critical positions on him.--thither 06:07, 10 October 2007 (UTC)
Better encyclopedias do include substantive discussion of the ideas of major authors. I think this section is very appropriate. (Always room for improvement of course!) Falstaf (talk) 17:28, 22 November 2007 (UTC)

"Most famous poem" status[edit]

On what basis given to The Emperor of Ice Cream? What evidence that it's more famous than XVIII Ways of Looking at a Blackbird or "Sunday Morning," "Anecdote of the Jar," "Idea of Order at Key West" etc? NOTE: this should be Thirteen Ways, not Eighteen.

Moreover, why make this claim under the spotlight of the intro paragraph where it is one of only three presumably key sentences?Cyrusc (talk) 16:47, 19 December 2007 (UTC)

Death-bed conversion[edit]

The current NYT has a review of the new selected poems book. In it, the reviewer makes the point that there is no official record of WS's conversion though, the reviewer states, Church protocol calls for conversions to be recorded. All this seems counter to the tone of the Wik article as it now reads.Kdammers (talk) 02:34, 22 August 2009 (UTC)

For those wondering what it was:

"Against his father’s wishes, he married Elsie Kachel, a beautiful but poorly educated girl of a class lower than his own. Nobody from his family attended the wedding, and Stevens never again visited or spoke to his parents during his father’s lifetime. The unfortunate marriage eventually failed, and in a bitter way. Stevens’s only child, Holly, told me that her mother was mentally ill, that she was suspicious of neighbors, that she would not allow other children into the house to play, and that when Stevens was rehospitalized for 10 days before his death from cancer, his wife never once went to the hospital (although Holly was there every day). Holly scoffed at the tale of Stevens’s reputed baptism and “conversion” related many years later by the hospital chaplain; in her daily attendance, she saw no sign of it and heard nothing of it. (There is no written record of that “baptism,” although all Roman Catholic priests are required to record the baptisms they perform.)" --Gwern (contribs) 10:18 22 August 2009 (GMT)

Is "Tattoo" one of Stevens's "best-known" poems? It's a fine poem, but it is not frequently anthologized? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:40, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Stevens' politics[edit]

I've improved the refs regarding Stevens' politics, but not without a twinge of conscience, because I think the current placement of the section accords the topic undue prominence. The facts are not in dispute -- everybody knows this -- but when I draw up a mental list of things to know about Stevens ranked by their unimportance, his politics sit near the top of the list, hovering somewhere near his shoe size. Where should this go? -- Rrburke (talk) 00:37, 22 May 2010 (UTC)

RE claims regarding conversion to Roman Catholicism[edit]

The following comment by Newsalem may have been posted by mistake in the main article, rather than here:

Yet, there is support for Stevens's conversion. See notes #14 and #15 in the Wikipedia entry for "Deathbed conversions." In Note 15, in a reply to a letter to him from Helen Vendler on the subject, Fr. Chicetto replies (in part, dated 9/2/09): "Dear Helen Vendler, I didn't expect you to agree with everything I put down in my letter to you. It is disturbing, however, when you ignore the testimony of Dr. Edward Sennett (in charge of the Radiology Dept. at St. Francis Hospital when Stevens was admitted both times [1955]) and the Sisters with whom I talked in 1977 (and later) who believed Fr. Hanley's account. They never spoke of any kind of forgetfulness or memory loss on Fr. Hanley's part, whether noble (when one intentionally does not remember injuries, mischief, etc.) or unmeant (when one unintentionally cannot remember things owing to trauma, confusion or some other mental impairment). What provoked me NOT to visit Fr. Hanley in 1977 was their testimony that his account in 1955 was credible and that they believed Stevens was baptized. The Sisters had no reason to doubt Hanley's word, one of whom worked with him and knew him quite well. You seem to want to ignore that. Do you really believe they were ALL taken in by Fr. Hanley's 'forgetfulness,' by his 'mental impairment,' in 1977, when he was alive, retired, and in touch with them? (He lived only a half hour away from them!) Dr. Sennett was too sharp a person and knew the Sisters too well to believe they were being deluded and misled owing to Fr. Hanley's 'memory loss.' Also, in your response, you ignore the fact that a number of priests in the past refrained from recording (in nearby parishes and hospitals) the baptisms of certain dying people. I myself, for example, remember baptizing two people and leaving their baptisms unrecorded on two different occasions. That is, I baptized two people (unconditionally and absolutely), gave them Communion, and didn't record their baptisms in a nearby parish or at the hospital – for many reasons, not the least being that the dying person wanted no Catholic funeral and preferred that his/her 'reception' remain private (i.e., between himself/herself and God). I mentioned this in my first letter. Such private baptisms did occur in New England and elsewhere! (Today, of course, federal law and new legislation requires that some sort of record of a person's baptism be kept in the hospital as part of the deceased person's medical history. But that was not always the case in the past. And it is anyone's guess as to whether priests abide by those rules today; they pick and chose so freely.) Finally, to assume that because 'nothing in his [Stevens'] poetry or prose suggests any wish to be a member of any church' he therefore could never have requested a private baptism flies in the face of so many 'hour of death' accounts of the dying, many of whose private testimonies, disclosures, groundless terrors contradict the reckonings and calculations erected or founded on their earlier lives (and, in this case, the person's writings). The dying often believe for themselves; not for another person or for the sake of some book they wrote. Any person who has witnessed the dying also knows that they 'say' and disclose their sentiments (in words and gestures) better than the witnesses or those around them can, foolish cliches and all. In conclusion, I don't think this response to your letter will dissuade you from holding your own belief that Fr. Hanley was forgetful, etc. Indeed, reasoning further against your opinion in this matter would be like fighting against a shadow – all-consuming, exhausting without affecting the shadow...."