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On Extended Wings

Overview

Though Wallace Stevens’ shorter poems are perhaps his best known, his longer poems, Helen Hennessy Vendler suggests in this book, deserve equal fame and equal consideration. Stevens’ central theme—the worth of the imagination—remained with him all his life, and Mrs. Vendler therefore proposes that his development as a poet can best be seen, not in description—which must be repetitive—of the abstract bases of his work, but rather in a view of his changing styles.

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Overview

Though Wallace Stevens’ shorter poems are perhaps his best known, his longer poems, Helen Hennessy Vendler suggests in this book, deserve equal fame and equal consideration. Stevens’ central theme—the worth of the imagination—remained with him all his life, and Mrs. Vendler therefore proposes that his development as a poet can best be seen, not in description—which must be repetitive—of the abstract bases of his work, but rather in a view of his changing styles.

The author presents here a chronological account of fourteen longer poems that span a thirty-year period, showing, through Stevens’ experiments in genre, diction, syntax, voice, imagery, and meter, the inventive variety of Stevens’ work in long forms, and providing at the same time a coherent reading of these difficult poems. She concludes, “Stevens was engaged in constant experimentation all his life in an attempt to find the appropriate vehicle for his expansive consciousness; he found it in his later long poems, which surpass in value the rest of his work.”

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review - Harold Bloom
[Vendler] has written a superb and badly needed book giving us readings unlikely to be surpassed of Stevens's longer poems...Mrs. Vendler is a commentator almost clairvoyant...Her book ought to be read, with care and gratitude, by every reader of Stevens, for no critic before her has understood so well his major poems.
Nation - Richard Giannone
This study of Stevens' long poems centers around problems defined by the poetry itself: its style and form, its evolving shape. In treating these problems intelligently, Mrs. Vendler deepens the exploration of Wallace Stevens into penetration. For this reason, among others, On Extended Wings is valuable and special.
Choice
[Vendler's] study of Stevens' longer poems is a difficult, brilliant book that everywhere illuminates not only the specific poems under inspection and Stevens' other work, but our ideas of poetry in general. Her own style, rising to its subject, is capacious and inventive, witty and astringent, intensely dedicated to distinguishing Stevens' finest poems, or moments in poems, from his less fine ones. The result is true criticism, and it comes through most vividly in her discussions of 'Man with the Blue Guitar,' 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,' and 'Auroras of Autumn.' A book to be read and reread, it is absolutely essential for the way it sends us back to the poems it so lovingly and sternly anatomizes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674634367
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2004
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Vendler is A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents


  • Introduction: The Two Poetries


I. The Pensive Man: The Pensive Style
II. Fugal Requiems The Comedian as the Letter C, Sunday Morning, Le Monocle de Mon Oncle
III. The Sausage Maker Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
IV. The Volcano Apostrophe, The Sea Behold Owl’s Clover
V. A Duct with the Undertaker The Man with the Blue Guitar
VI. Abecedarium of Finesoldier Examination of the Hero in a Time of War
VII. The Amassing Harmony Notes toward a Supreme Fiction
VIII. The Metaphysical Changes Esthetique du Mal and Description without Place
IX. Douceurs, Tristesses Credences of Sunnner and The Auroras of Autumn
X. The Total Leaflessness An Ordinary Evening in New Haven
XI. Naked Alpha: Epilogue

  • Notes

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