Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stevens And The Personal

Dan Pritchard quotes Vendler on Stevens in the context of a new Selected Poems.

'How differently might a reader take in “Burghers of Petty Death” if it had been called “A Son’s Lament for His Dead Parents,” or “The Snow Man” if it had been called “Stoicism in a Failed Marriage”? Like Dickinson, Stevens has won a wide audience in spite of the guard he put on his privacy, and we are now better acquainted with his sorrows. . . .'

Is that link made between the poet’s life and his poems important though? The Snow Man is worth reading because it’s a great poem and I’d feel that, while Stevens’ circumstances may be interesting for scholars, the poem has wider application than any personal grief.

Although...perhaps I'm wrong to read Vendler's comments in a reductive sense. Maybe it adds a new dimension to the poem if you read it in the context of a marriage?

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

- Wallace Stevens, 1921


deemikay said...

Frankly, I don't care how Stevens came to write it or his life at the time.

In a High Fidelity way it's in my "Best Poems from First Collections" list ;)

Dave said...

You know, I've always had the feeling that something in Vendler is fundamentally out of synch with Stevens. Every time I read or come across her Stevens criticism her statements, while never outright incorrect, always strike me as approaching from an angle which does much more to diminish Stevens' work than to enlarge it.

I read an article of hers once which spent a lot of time on 'The Region November', one of my very favorites, and I often wondered whether we were reading the same poem -- her emphasis was entirely on what she saw as the poem's imaginative dessication, while I've long read the poem as an almost sublime isolation of that moment where all of Stevens' poetry begins to work, I mean operate -- when the imagination reaches out and entwines with the natural world and the one great organ to which the best in him always responds is right there, all around him, suddenly audible.

As for her suggestion that 'The Snowman' would be better served by a title which right off the bat frames it as a poem about failed marriage -- that's just plain dumb.