R.M. Engelhardt

an appreciation of Wallace Stevens

Spectral Lyre

I wonder where Wallace Stevens came from? Born in 1879 to conventional parents in Reading, Pennsylvania, he attended Harvard for three years after high school; eventually, he got a job with an insurance company in New York, later ending up in Connecticut. My wondering has little or nothing to do with genealogy and geography. So where did he come from?

What early concoction of abstract elixirs settled into such a perspective as his, that state of powerful poetic ambivalence? As a boy, did Stevens stand transfixed while watching a hi-wheel cyclist in magical balance between the horizontal and the vertical, gravity and will, substance and imagination, mechanics and wonder?

Bicyclist-Frank-Lenz

Is it surprising that his later, regular profession had to do with actuarial uncertainty?

Stevens’s soul was dialectical. On the one hand, he pointed with astonishment toward the fact of nature — forms and substances. That great fact is something almost…

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