Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen out of Desire

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement - Lucy Beckett
[This book] tells the reader a good deal more about Wallace Stevens's poetry and Stevens as a poet than many a weighty tome...The shining merit of these lectures is their capacity to elucidate single poems, some familiar anthology pieces, others much less familiar, so that they stand alone as comprehensible entities. The key to this success is the devotion that has accompanied her patience, a devotion that responds, in particular, to the warmth and sadness, the emotional depth, that Vendler finds in Stevens...Those readers who have sensed both the urgency of feeling and the forlornness in Stevens's poems, but have found the obliquities of his manner and diction often impenetrable, will be grateful for the tact and moderation of these fresh interpretations. Their special achievements are that they convince, movingly and with a simplicity not often found in Stevens commentary, and that they then leave the poem to reassemble in the mind as wholly itself.
Frank Kermode
[Vendler] has found the right way to talk about [Stevens], and is quite right to say that he is a genuinely misunderstood poet. On the very late poems she is exceptionally good and provides some reasons for the belief (which I share) that they are great poems indeed...She writes throughout with admirable firmness...Altogether this little book seems to me a triumph.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674945753
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1986
  • Pages: 86
  • Sales rank: 956,878
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Vendler is A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2008

    'In the flesh it is immortal'

    Vendler is considered the supreme reader of Stevens, especially the line- by- line syntactical substance of his work. In this group of four lectures she illuminates the shorter poetry of Stevens and in doing so elaborates her sense not only of his methods as poet but as poetic visionary. Vendler sees Stevens as a poet in conflict, a poet torn between desire and disappointment, one from whom the predominant note of longing is qualified by the harsh restrained wisdom of denial and failure. She points out how in a chapter on Stevens' 'Tactics of Secrecy', how he will put the major meaning in the middle of the poem, how he will mislead in naming the Poem, how he will substitute 'he' or 'she' when he is really saying 'I', how it is necessary to understand the poetry in the context of his whole canon and in that of his predecessors. Vendler says that 'Desire, its illusions and despairs is Stevens' great subject' Stevens' idealizations in the realms of romantic love, aesthetic creation, religious faith meet always contradiction and qualification in reality. 'The priest desires. The philosopher desires And not to have is the beginning of desire.' But balanced against what is not found and not realized is the intense perceptual and sensual structure of the world found and made by the Poetry. The order and harmony which come out of Stevens' great poems. 'Beauty is momentary in the mind The fitful tracing of a portal But in the flesh it is immortal.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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