The Life of Wallace Stevens

The New Yorker

Paul Mariani’s excellent new book, “The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens” (Simon & Schuster), is a thrilling story of a mind, which emerges from a dispiriting story of a man. It’s hard to think of a more vivid illustration of T. S. Eliot’s principle of the separation between “the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” For most of his life, Stevens was an elaborately defended introvert in a three-piece suit, working as a Hartford insurance executive. He came slowly to a mastery of language, form, and style that revealed a mind like a solar system, with abstract ideas orbiting a radiant lyricism. Mariani persuasively numbers Stevens among the twentieth-century poets who are both most powerful and most refined in their eloquence, along with Rilke, Yeats, and Neruda. He is certainly the quintessential American poet of the twentieth century, a doubting idealist who invested slight subjects (the weather, often) with oracular gravitas, and grand ones (death, frequently) with capering humor.

I got the Kindle version for four dollars.

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