Though Wallace Stevens’ shorter poems are perhaps his best known, his longer poems, Helen 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’s 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.”
[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.
[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.
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.
- 312 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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