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Wallace  Stevens
華樂斯•史蒂文斯
圖片來源:
主要文類:Poem
資料提供者:Fr.Pierre Demer/談德義神父;Kate Liu/劉紀雯; Raphael Schulte/蕭笛雷
關鍵字詞:Introduction to Literature 1998:Sound and Rhythm;

Introduction

Wallace Stevens

1879-1955

 

    Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) lived a double life. Professionally he was a lawyer and a businessman who worked his way up to the vice-presidency of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a dedicated executive who kept going to his office five years beyond the retiring age. Outside office hours and without the knowledge of his business associates, he wrote poetry and worked his way up to the position of one of major poets of the English language in the twentieth century. His life was devoted to the making of money and poetry, never mixing one activity with the other. Yet, he saw a connection between the two. Money afforded him the means of sensuous experience that is one of the basic elements of his poetry. The man who can afford to buy pictures, he would say, is a better judge of pictures than the man who can only talk about them. He was proud of his career in insurance: "It gives a man character as a poet," he said, "to have daily contact with a job." Possibly, he meant that daily contact with the gross and harsh reality was necessary to a poet, especially to a poet of his kind whose main topic was the relationship between reality and poetry, nature and imagination. In any case, his poetry is often an attempt to purify living of its grossness and to arrive at the contemplation of a platonic perfect image. 

    Steven's life was regular and disciplined. He was a stay-at-home type traveling hardly any farther than Florida and Boston from his Hartford residence, never seeing Europe whose language used liberally in his poetry. It is through art, literature, and philosophy that he knew the essence of the European tradition. He was a keen amateur of painting and music, and became familiar with their techniques; he read abundantly the French symbolist poets; philosophic ideas inspired his greatest poems and have contributed to his reputation as a philosophical poet.
    In fact, Stevens drew as much from the art of painting, from music, and from the symbolist movement in literature as from philosophy. But the twentieth-century reader often turns to literature in order to find an interpretation of life, a set of ideas capable of shaping his life. Stevens' poetry, often didactic, offer a fair amount of such ideas. The selections analyzed in this issue of Study Guides contain some of Stevens' best known notions. 

    For Stevens there are two kinds of reality-the objective and the subjective. Objective reality is perceived by the five senses. Subjective reality is the inner world of man dominated by the imagination. The function of the imagination is to put order in the confused data of the senses, perceive relations between them, and give them meaning. The interaction between external reality and imagination creates emotions. 

    The reality known by the senses and the reality created by the imagination are equally real. But the common error of man is to believe that the products of imagination have an external reality independent of the imagination. This is an illusion, and the greatest illusion, in Stevens' mind is the mistaken belief that the supernatural has an external reality; in face, it is an imaginative projection of man's desire for the absolute. There is no known external reality besides the one given by the senses. At the center of universe there is "nothingness," a vacuum that man is very tempted to fill with gods and an eternal objective reality. 

    There is an essential difference between Stevens' approach to reality and that of other major poets of this century. T. S. Eliot, for instance, takes the reality known by the senses as a symbol of the supernatural or spiritual reality; the role of the imagination is to perceive this analogy. For Stevens, on the contrary, imagination must be careful not to assume this role but limit itself to the perception of analogies between sense perceptions only. The delights of poetry are essentially the delights in seeing resemblances between various forms of sensuous being and in creating order out of the confusion of this life. Stevens' philosophy is essentially hedonistic; that is, it gives primary importance to the enjoyment of the sense and of the emotions. 

    In order to achieve this enjoyment man must stand naked in the middle of reality; that is, he must divest himself of everything that can interfere between his sense perceptions and the free play of his imagination on them. He must not let tradition, religious belief, preconceived notions, and history or the literary past influence his direct perceptions. Freshness of experience is all.
Stevens' philosophy precludes a dramatic poetry of quest like that of Frost and Eliot. His is essentially a poetry of statement, an act of faith in the "nothingness" at the core of reality. He extols the capacity of the senses, the emotions, and the imagination to satisfy all of man's needs. One may suspect that there are more things in heaven and in earth than are dreamed of in Stevens' philosophy, but his ideas, whether right or wrong, resulted in the creation of poems of great beauty. Many of those who cannot stand his ideas and even despise him for them, will remember his best lines for their sensuous beauty. The elements that seduce us are Stevens' intensity of sense perceptions, his ability to evoke them in his diction sand rhythm; his passion for order and his care in structuring his poems perfectly; his delicate sense of humor and of self-irony pervading most of his poetry. Even in his poetry of positive affirmation, the reader feels that Stevens keeps a doubt in reserve.  

    Stevens' use of other arts to create poetry is more satisfying than his use of philosophy. "Peter Quince at the Clavier," is an attempt at translating into musical terms, the sensuous feelings and the emotions of the characters involved. The words themselves are music. "Sunday Morning" opens with a word picture comparable to a colorful painting by Matisse of a middle-aged lady at her breakfast table. "Anecdote of the Jar" is a symbolist poem illustrating the order of art in the midst of the confusion of life, and their mutual influence. "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" and "The Snow Man" are more discursive and use imagery to illustrate the basic statement of the "nothingness" at the core of things-man, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is .  

    Through art, Stevens succeeded in purifying the grossness of actual living into "ideal" forms of experience, forms that do not, as in Plato, exist outside of man but are the products of his creative imagination.

   
 

   

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