Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

A selective list of online literary criticism for the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens, favoring signed articles by recognized scholars and articles published in peer-reviewed sources


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introduction & biography

"Wallace Stevens." Interpretations of Stevens' poems by leading critics (excerpts). Poems covered: "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," "Floral Decorations for Bananas," "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman," "Anecdote of the Jar," "Disillusionment of 10 O' Clock," "The Snow Man," "The Emperor of Ice Cream," "Peter Quince at the Clavier," "Sunday Morning," "The Death of a Soldier," "The Idea of Order at Key West," "Mozart, 1935," "A Postcard from the Volcano," "Study of Two Pears," "Of Modern Poetry," "The Course of a Particular," "The Plain Sense of Things," "As You Leave the Room," "A Clear Day and No Memories," "Of Mere Being." Modern American Poetry, Univ. of Illinois. Eds. Edward Brunner, John Timberman Newcomb, and Cary Nelson.

Hammer, Langdon. "Lecture 19: Wallace Stevens." In the first of three lectures on Stevens, "Wallace Stevens is considered as an unapologetically Romantic poet of imagination. His search for meaning in a universe without religion in 'Sunday Morning' is likened to Crane's energetic quest for meaning and symbol. In 'The Poems of Our Climate,' Stevens's desire to reduce poetry to essential terms, and then his countering resistance to this impulse, are explored. Finally, 'The Man on the Dump' is considered as a typically Stevensian search for truth in specifically linguistic terms" [3 lectures]. Audio, video, and transcript from Professor Hammer's class at Yale, ENGL 310: Modern Poetry, Spring, 2007.

"Read These on Your Death Bed: Helen Vendler on last poems by Stevens and Merrill." Audio, lecture by Professor Vendler. Poetry Foundation.

"Wallace Stevens." A brief introduction to Wallace Stevens, includes text of 19 of his most famous poems and two audio files--"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" read by another poet, and "The Idea of Order at Key West" read by Stevens himself, his own pauses sometimes working against the line breaks. Academy of American Poets.

"To Reinvent Invention: John Hollander on Wallace Stevens." Academy of American Poets.

"Wallace Stevens." An introduction to Wallace Stevens from educational publisher Pearson/Longman.

Serio, John N. "Excerpt: 'Selected Poems.'" An introduction to Wallace Stevens by an influential critic and editor of Stevens. National Public Radio 3 Dec. 2009.

"Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man." Commentator Jay Keyser claims that Stevens' "The Snow Man" is the best short poem in the English language. National Public Radio 29 Nov. 2005.

"The Enigma of Wallace Stevens." A brief biography of Stevens, discusses his long residence in Hartford, Conn., and his grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery. By Christine Palm, president of the Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens. Connecticut Explored.

"Wallace Stevens." A short biography of Wallace Stevens from the Unitarian web site Harvard Square Library briefly covers Stevens' religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

"The Ten Best American Poems." Poet and professor Jay Parini chooses Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West" as the second greatest American poem (after Whitman's "Song of Myself"). The Guardian 11 March 2011.

"Favorite Love Poems." Poet Robert Pinsky's selection of favorite poems for Valentine's Day, which includes a poem "imagining a contentment so pure it is almost hard to recognize as a love poem," Wallace Stevens' "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour." Slate Magazine 11 Feb. 2005.

"Where poetry lighted." Newspaper article about the "Wallace Stevens Walk," a self-guided tour of the path in Hartford, Conn., that Wallace Stevens took on his long walk to work from his house, at 118 Westerly Terrace, to his job as vice president of the Hartford Insurance company (he never learned to drive), composing poems along the way. Boston Globe 21 Dec. 2008.

"Wallace Stevens." Modernist Portraits, American Passages: A Literary Survey. Ed. Laura Arnold. A site for teachers, a collaboration between the Public Broadcasting Service and W.W. Norton.

Wagner-Martin, Linda W."Classroom Issues and Strategies." Suggestions for teaching Stevens' poetry, Stevens' themes and style. From educational publisher Heath.

Jenkins, Lee M. "Wallace Stevens." An introduction to Stevens, from a database that provides signed literary criticism by experts in their field, and is available to individuals for a reasonably-priced subscription. Literary Encyclopedia. 9 Dec. 2004. Eds. Robert Clark, Emory Elliott, Janet Todd [subscription service].

"Wallace Stevens." The Poetry Foundation.


literary criticism

Altieri, Charles. Articles on Wallace Stevens by an important scholar and critic: "Why "Angel Surrounded by Paysans" Concludes The Auroras of Autumn," and "Stevens and the Crisis of European Philosophy," and "The Idea of Feeling in Wallace Stevens' Poetry," and "Intentionality as Sensuality in Harmonium." Professor Altieri's web site.

Brazeal, Gregory. "The Supreme Fiction: Fiction or Fact?" Journal of Modern Literature 31 (2007).

Beyers, Chris. "Critical Studies in a Post-Theoretical Age: Three Books Sort of About Wallace Stevens." Lengthy review article discusses Bart Eeckhout's Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing; Joseph Harrington's Poetry and the Public: The Social Form of Modern U.S. Poetics; and Kristine S. Santilli's Poetic Gesture: Myth, Wallace Stevens, and the Motions of Poetic Language. College Literature (2005) [first page only].

Conte, Joseph. "The Smooth and the Striated: Compositional Texture in the Modern Long Poem." Says Conte, "The 'smooth texts' among twentieth-century long poems might include Wallace Stevens' 'Auroras of Autumn,' James Schuyler's 'The Morning of the Poem,' John Ashbery's 'Flow Chart,' A. R. Ammons's 'Garbage,' Clark Coolidge's 'The Crystal Text,' and David Antin's 'Tuning' . . . The 'striated texts' among the twentieth-century long poems might include Pound's 'The Cantos,' Charles Olson's 'The Maximus Poems,' Robert Duncan's 'Passages' series, Lyn Hejinian's 'My Life,' Ronald Johnson's 'Ark,' and John Cage's 'Themes and Variations.'" Modern Language Studies 27 (1997).

Filreis, Alan. "'Beyond the Rhetorician's Touch': Stevens' Painterly Abstractions." Filreis explores why--given Stevens' interest in painting and in abstraction--he did not acquire American abstract paintings. American Literary History (1992).

Foust, Graham. "Wallace Stevens' Manuscript As If in The Dump." Foust notes Stevens' habit of carrying around bits of paper with poems jotted on them: "These 'little slips of paper,' as Stevens himself calls them, these scraps of value, resemble nothing if not dollar bills; a dollar, like a Wallace Stevens poem, is a thing and a measurement, an object and an abstraction." Jacket 14 (2001).

Sukenick, Ronald. Wallace Stevens, Musing the Obscure: Readings, an Interpretation, and a Guide to the Collected Poetry (New York UP 1967). Close readings of many of Stevens' poems. The complete book is open access, reprinted by permission.

Vendler, Helen. "The Plain Sense of Things." Professor Vendler remarks on Wallace Stevens unhappy marriage as part of her review of Poems By Wallace Stevens, edited by John N. Serio (Knopf, 2009). "We have long needed, and now possess, through the unerring taste of John N. Serio...a genuine 'Selected Poems.'" NY Times 19 Aug. 2009.

Vendler, Helen. Publisher's blurb for On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems (Harvard UP, 1969).

Vendler, Helen. Publisher's site for Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen out of Desire (Harvard UP, 1986).

Vendler, Helen. "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar." Jefferson Lecture, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2004. Says Vendler, "The secular angel refreshing our sense of the world, apparelled in Wordsworthian light, stays only for a moment, our moment of attention. But that moment of mental acuity recalls us to being, the body, and the emotions, which are, peculiarly, so easy for us to put to one side as we engage in purely intellectual or physical work."

Woodward, Kathleen M. At Last, the Real Distinguished Thing: the Late Poems of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams (Ohio UP 1980) [and T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, poetry of old age]. (The complete book is available online, from Ohio UP.)


web sites

Wallace Stevens reads his poems. Audio files of Stevens reading in 1952 at Harvard, with an introduction by Richard Wilbur. The reading includes at-that-time unpublished poems "To an Old Philosopher in Rome," "Two Illustrations That the World Is What You Make of It," "Vacancy in the Park," "The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain," "The World Is Larger in Summer," "Prologues to What Is Possible," "Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly," and "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour." Additional links to audio of readings by Stevens in 1954. The readings are also notable since, as Stevens wrote to Knopf's Publicity Director William Cole, in August 1954, "I never did like to read in public, not only because of personal inhibitions, but because I never thought it was quite the right thing for me to do." Also at this PennSound page, recorded talks on Wallace Stevens by poets Susan Howe, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer. PennSound, University of Pennsylvania.

John Ashbery reading from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," sections 3, 5, 12, 17, 18 and 30, in Oct. 1989 at St. John's the Divine Cathedral in New York, as part of the induction of Wallace Stevens at the Poets' Corner. PennSound.

The Wallace Stevens Society. Ed. John N. Serio. Web site for the scholarly Wallace Stevens Journal, contains a useful online concordance for searching words used by Stevens in his poems, information about subscribing to the journal, and more.

Friends & Enemies of Wallace Stevens. Web site of a group devoted to preserving Stevens' legacy in Hartford, Conn., and beyond.

The Wallace Stevens discussion list.

Scanned page image for an early Stevens poem, "Primordia." From The Soil: A Magazine of Art, published January 1917.

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Edward Picot, 2007. An innovative visual interpretation of the poem.


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