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Wallace Stevens

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English Literature

One of the major figures of American Modernism, Wallace Stevens led a double life as a poet and lawyer at a major insurance firm. Philosophical themes and reflections on nature, reality, imagination, belief, and language pervade his work from his earliest poems, collected in his first book, Harmonium in 1923. Only recognized as one of the greatest American poets in the decade leading up to his death, Stevens is remembered today for such poems as 'Sunday Morning' (1915) and 'The Emperor of Ice Cream' (1922).

Wallace Stevens' Biography

Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879, in Reading, Pennsylvania to an upper-middle-class family. His father, a self-made lawyer and businessman, had high hopes for Stevens and his four siblings, encouraging them to study diligently at school and compete with one another with the aim of establishing successful careers. His mother, a deeply religious housewife, made sure her children participated in Sunday-school classes and as altar boys, sang hymns, and regularly studied the Bible.

The Stevens household was generally a hard-working and studious one. The young Stevens excelled in the local Reading High School, where he learned to read classical Greek and Latin, worked on the school newspaper, and won a prize for his public speaking skills. To the delight of his father, he was accepted to Harvard College in 1897.3

Wallace Stevens Harvard University StudySmarterHarvard University Campus, where Stevens studied, Pixabay

At Harvard, Wallace Stevens decided to become a writer and immersed himself in literature, foreign languages, and history. He also befriended the philosopher and poet George Santayana, then a professor at Harvard, and was deeply influenced by the emerging psychological theories of William James.

Here Stevens developed his life-long concern with questions of perception and reality, religious belief and experience, and the place of art and culture in a world that was rapidly changing as a result of scientific developments, most notably with the theories of evolution and developments in physics.3

Wallace Stevens studied at Harvard for three years without taking a degree. He decided to start a career as a journalist, which he thought of as a kind of compromise between his desire to be a writer and his father's insistence on finding a stable, well-paying career.

After less than a year working as a journalist in New York City, Stevens discovered that it was not to his liking and quit, enrolling instead in New York Law School. He graduated in 1903 and passed the state bar exam the following year.3

During a trip home from New York, Wallace Stevens met Elsie Kachel, a beautiful but poor and uneducated woman. He would go on to marry her in 1908, but his father, ever the social climber, deeply disapproved because of Elsie's lack of wealth and social status.

No one from Stevens' family attended the wedding, and the event caused such a huge rift between Stevens and his father that they ceased all communication. When Stevens' father died in 1911, they hadn't spoken in over three years.3

After his marriage, Stevens continued practicing law for the American Bonding Company and the Equitable Surety Company in New York City, where he was also involved in the avant-garde art scene, meeting with writers, poets, and painters, and occasionally publishing poetry of his own.

In 1916, Stevens left New York for Hartford, Connecticut. He was hired by an insurance company, the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would work for the rest of his life, eventually becoming vice president.3

Wallace Stevens Hartford Connecticut Night Skyline StudySmarterThe skyline of Hartford, Connecticut at night, Pixabay

Wallace Stevens published his first book of poems, Harmonium, in 1923 to positive reviews but modest sales. Many of the poems were written during his youth and his time in New York, and his job at the Hartford Company notably slowed down his writing, with his second book, Ideas of Order, not appearing until 1936.

Stevens and Elsie had a daughter, Holly, in 1924, but soon began to drift apart, eventually living in separate parts of their home and rarely communicating. Stevens frequently traveled for work and repeatedly returned to Key West, Florida, where he would carouse with other literary figures like Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway (notably breaking his hand during a fight with Hemingway in 1936).3

Stevens continued to write and publish poetry despite his busy work schedule and family life, and slowly started to gain recognition as an accomplished poet. Stevens' work only gained critical acclaim and widespread popularity in the mid-1940s, when he was well over 60 years old. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Wesleyan University in 1947 and Harvard in 1951, and was offered a professorship at Harvard, which he declined because he preferred his work in Hartford.

Stevens' poetry received numerous awards in the early 1950s, including the National Book Award for Auroras of Autumn in 1951 and the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems in 1955. Stevens died of complications from stomach cancer on August 2, 1955.3

Themes in Wallace Stevens' poetry

Stevens' poetry was published over the course of over four decades and covers a wide range of topics in hundreds of poems. Despite this variety, philosophical and religious themes dealing with the nature of reality, imagination, belief, language, and art occur in nearly all of Stevens' poems.

Nature

Like the Romantic poets, Wallace Stevens' poetry often turns to nature as a source of meaning. Unlike the Romantics, Stevens' idea of nature was informed by the increasingly strange discoveries of the physical sciences during his lifetime, such as the development of the special theory of relativity and quantum physics, and the renewed interest in thermodynamics and the law of entropy.

Stevens thought that the worldview that made Romantic poetry possible was irretrievably lost with the development of the modern world. Far from the clouds and daffodils of nineteenth-century nature poetry, for Stevens nature is strange, indeterminate, difficult, perhaps impossible to understand, and indifferent to human interests. In spite of this, he insists that there is meaning in the natural world, and that it is poetry's job to find it.2

Wallace Stevens Albert Einstein Nils Bohr StudySmarterAlbert Einstein and Nils Bohr made foundational contributions during Steven's lifetime, Pixabay

In Stevens' lifetime, discoveries in the sciences radically changed the way people perceived the world. These came primarily from biology and physics.

While the work of Charles Darwin on evolution by natural selection had already gained widespread attention by the late nineteenth century, it was only with the discovery of genetic inheritance that the so-called "modern synthesis" around the turn of the 20th century cemented its status as the unifying theory of biology.

This would have obvious implications for Christian religious belief, which typically claims that God created all living creatures as they currently exist today over the period of one week. It came to seem that one had to choose between accepting either the facts of a modern scientific theory or the tenets of a religious belief.

In physics, Stevens' lifetime would witness the development of the theory of special relativity as well as quantum physics. Both implied a radical difference between the way we experience the world and the way that it really is, with quantum physics describing a reality so strange that it seems to violate the laws of logic. These discoveries would have a major impact on what the word "nature" meant to Stevens: a world of relativity, spacetime, and quarks.

Reality and imagination

Throughout his career, Wallace Stevens would contrast what he called the mundo, or the world "of the imagination in which the imaginative man delights" with the actual world, which he called "the gaunt world of reason."1 These two worlds do not exist in isolation from each other, but provide different ways of experiencing and knowing. Reading and writing poetry creates "a truth that cannot be arrived at by the reason alone, a truth that the poet recognizes by sensation" and which is inherently more pleasurable than reality as known by reason alone.

Facts and reality are of course important for the practical business of living in the world, but also for writing poetry: the world of facts, reason, and things in themselves provide the basic subject matter for poetry, and poetry then interprets them as "a reality adequate to the profound realities of life today." In other words, poetry helps give meaning to the bare facts of our everyday experiences. Much of Stevens' thought and poetry is concerned with the interaction of reality and imagination, and to what degree imagination can shape reality and give it meaning.

Belief

Wallace Stevens' religious upbringing and his encounter with the radical thought of people like Santayana and James at Harvard instilled a lifelong concern with questions of religious belief and the place of religion and poetry in the modern world. Stevens claimed that he was "not an atheist" but also that he no longer believed "in the same God in whom I believed as a boy."3

Stevens' concern is the place of belief in the modern world, where traditional religion no longer has the same role in peoples' lives, even if they are believers. Stevens does not exactly think that poetry should be a replacement for religious belief. He does think, however, that in the modern world poetry provides "the essence which takes its place as life's redemption," or something that can potentially give a human life meaning in the absence of God.

Language

Many of Wallace Stevens' poems are a reflection, directly or indirectly, on language itself. This can be seen in his frequent use of unusual, archaic, and foreign words, and in the sheer difficulty of the language of many of his poems. It is most evident, however, in his use of and reflections on metaphor, a word which itself appears in the titles of more than a dozen of his poems.

Stevens thinks of metaphor as a way of understanding the world, and he is worried that certain metaphors are so deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking that we can't escape them. Two examples of these which repeatedly come up in his poems are the Christian metaphor of the human world as a fallen place, contrasted with paradise, and the Romantic metaphor of nature as a spiritual source.

Stevens doesn't believe in the truth of either of these metaphors, but he also doesn't think that we have the ability to simply reject them. He sees one of the central challenges of poetry as coming up with new and creative forms of expression using the language that we inherit from history and culture.3

Metaphor: A literary device in which one thing is described as something else.

Art

Wallace Stevens lived during a period of innovation and experimentation in the visual arts, and saw the development of such artistic movements as impressionism, cubism, and surrealism. As a young lawyer in New York, he would frequently visit art galleries, and even befriended a number of avant-garde painters.

Like many modernist poets, he looked to painting and the visual arts for inspiration and example, specifically addressing the artwork of Picasso and Cezanne in some of his poems, most notably "The Man with the Blue Guitar" (1937). Stevens was particularly interested in the idea, most famously used in impressionism and cubism, that art should focus on how things are perceived rather than on giving an objective picture of them.

Stevens thought of painting and poetry as being fundamentally similar, as they both try to use the imagination to give meaning to the world. He often experiments with giving a variety of unusual visual descriptions in his poetry, focusing on details of color, shading, and shape from unusual perspectives.3

Wallace Stevens Picasso GuernicaA mural of Picasso's "Guernica" Pixabay

Wallace Stevens' poems

Stevens began writing poetry while still a student at Harvard, and continued to write and publish while he worked as a journalist and lawyer with his last volume appearing just shortly before his death. Many of his best-known poems, such as the five examined below, were published in the first three decades of the twentieth century.

'Sunday Morning' by Wallace Stevens

'Sunday Morning' (1915) was Wallace Stevens' first major poem, and it established him as a major modern poet. It deals with a theme that would preoccupy Stevens throughout his career: the place of religion in the modern world.

The poem's first stanza opens in the home of an unnamed woman, at home on a Sunday morning in her "peignoir", or dressing gown, with "Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair / And the green freedom of a cockatoo" (Stanza I, lines 2-3).4

As the woman begins to daydream, her thoughts wander towards religion and the death of Jesus, "that ancient catastrophe" (Stanza I, line 7). Her gloomy thoughts about Christianity characterize it as a "procession of the dead" that took place in "silent Palestine / Dominion of the blood and sepulchre" (Stanza 1, lines 9-10). The poem's speaker contrasts this with the "pungent oranges and bright green wings" of her pleasant and sensuous surroundings (Stanza I lines 14-15).

Suddenly, she snaps out of this daydream, asking herself why she should "give her bounty to the dead" or to a religion centered on a distant past event known only in "shadows and dreams" rather than to the world she currently inhabits (Stanza II, lines 1-3).

She realizes that "Divinity must live within herself" and in all of her experiences, including not only the sunny room with the oranges and parrot but also seasonal changes like rain and snow, and "all pleasures and all pains" (Stanza II, lines 8-14). While we can no longer live in a world enchanted by gods the way the ancient Greeks did, we ourselves can play a similar role as they did, our blood becoming "the blood of paradise" and the earth "all of paradise that we shall know" (Stanza III, lines 10-11).

The beauty of the natural world is enough to keep her "content," even if it does inevitably come with emptiness, winter, death, and absence (Stanza IV, line 1). She knows that there is no afterlife or heaven, but takes comfort in the fact that "April's green endures; or will endure," that the earth's rebirth in the spring will keep happening long after we ourselves die (Stanza IV, line 12).

Knowing that our time on the earth is limited also helps to give our experiences beauty and meaning: "Death," the speaker tells us repeatedly "is the mother of beauty" (Stanza V, line 3 and Stanza VI, line 13). In the religious idea of heaven or "paradise" where there is no death, life seems to be without a goal or purpose, like a river that never reaches the sea (Stanza VI, lines 1-6). Even the most exquisite beauties, both natural and artistic, become "insipid" or boring under these conditions (Stanza VI, lines 12-15).

The speaker then gives a haunting image of a "ring of men" chanting in the forest on a summer morning, their natural surrounding taking on a spiritual significance as they show a "boisterous devotion to the sun, / not as a god, but as a god might be," their voices entering a "windy lake" as the "trees, like serafin, and echoing hills" surround them (Stanza VII, lines 1-10).

After this interlude, the speaker returns to the woman in her room. Her thoughts are once more on Christianity and the "tomb in Palestine," which she now describes as the "grave of Jesus" (Stanza VIII, lines 2-4). Her thoughts on religion reflect the natural cycles of the seasons, and of night and day as the poem closes with images of deer, quail, and berries in a forested mountain, as "casual flocks of pigeons" flying into the evening darkness, make "Ambiguous undulations as they sink, / Downward to darkness on extended wings" (Stanza VIII, lines 5-15).

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens

The poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" (1917) is a series of 13 brief stanzas, ranging from two to seven lines in length. While each stanza does contain the word 'blackbird', they do not all provide a visual description of a blackbird, as the title seems to suggest. Not all of the stanzas are even really about a blackbird in any obvious way.

The blackbird seems to be, instead, an occasion for various meditations on the nature of the world, thought, language, and perception. The poem both opens and closes with images of a blackbird contrasting with a white, snowy background, first "Among twenty snowy mountains" and later "in cedar limbs" as "it was snowing" (Stanza I, line 1 and Stanza XII, lines 2-5).4 Otherwise, the short, haiku-like stanzas are intentionally ambiguous and follow no particular pattern or order.

Wallace Stevens Blackbird Snow Branch StudySmarterA blackbird on a snowy branch, Pixabay

'Anecdote of the Jar' by Wallace Stevens

This short poem of three quatrains, published in 1919, takes as its subject a jar placed by the speaker of the poem "in Tennessee, / ...upon a hill" (Stanza 1, lines 1-2).4 The jar is the only man-made artifact around, and creates order in nature. The jar stands here for the ability to contain, to set boundaries, and to differentiate. Juxtaposed with the wild, teeming landscape of Tennessee, both jar and wilderness come into clearer perspective.

Simply sitting there where it was placed, the speaker tells us that "The wilderness rose up to it, / And sprawled around, no longer wild" (Stanza 2, lines 1-2). While the jar becomes a kind of focal point, it also takes "dominion everywhere" and is "gray and bare" (Stanza 3, lines 1-2).

The jar seems totally disconnected from the rest of the natural world, "Like nothing else in Tennessee" (Stanza 3, line 4). This small, insignificant jar, somewhat arbitrarily placed on top of a hill, has come to order and dominate the landscape in the eyes of the poem's speaker.

Remember that the distinction between reason and imagination is a recurring theme in Stevens' poetry. Do you think that the jar and the Tennessee wilderness could correspond to either of these terms?

Wallace Stevens Jar Woods Wilderness StudySmarterA jar in the woods looks man made compared to its surroundings, Pixabay

'The Emperor of Ice Cream' by Wallace Stevens

This poem, published in 1922, opens with seemingly celebratory images of "big cigars," of "concupiscent curds" being whipped "in kitchen cups," of women in fancy dresses, and of "flowers in last month's newspapers" (Stanza 1, lines 1-6).4 The stanza closes with a rhyming couplet:

Let be be finale of seem.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. (lines 7-8)

The lines ask us to get down to the bottom of things, to move from uncertain seeming to the certainty of being. The confident declaration about the emperor of ice cream reflects the celebratory atmosphere described in the beginning of the stanza.

The second stanza takes a different turn as we are introduced to a shabby "dresser" made of "deal" or cheap wood that is "missing the three glass knobs" (Stanza 2, lines 1-2). A sheet is produced from this dresser, and it is used to cover a woman's dead body, with her feet protruding "to show how cold she is, and dumb" (Stanza 2, lines 2-6).

We now understand the celebratory images from the first stanza to have been, in fact, preparations for a funeral. The poem concludes with a second rhyming couplet at the end of the second stanza, enjoining us to "Let the light affix its beam" before reiterating that "the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream" (Stanza 2, lines 7-8).

'The Emperor of Ice Cream' is a poem of juxtaposition and contradictions: celebration is contrasted with mourning, seeming with being, light with cold, and life with death.

'The Emperor of Ice Cream' embodies these contradictions. An emperor is the consummate authority figure whose word is law, but we are told that the "only emperor" is in fact the one who controls ice cream, a seemingly frivolous and insignificant treat. Ice cream, like all of the pleasures of this world, is also transient, simply melting into a puddle if we don't eat it quickly enough.

Especially in the context of the funeral in the second stanza, this seems to be a comment on the inevitability of death. Stevens was, in all likelihood, referencing a line from Hamlet (1603) on the pointlessness of life:

Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. (Act 4, Scene 3)

Unlike Hamlet, though, Stevens does not let this lead to existential despair. This turns the poem into a kind of carpe diem for the modern world: take your sensual pleasures while you can, because death awaits us all.

'The Man on the Dump' by Wallace Stevens

'The Man on the Dump' (1923) is one of Stevens' reflections on the use of language, particularly metaphor. The poem begins at dusk, which is described with a series of strained metaphors: "The day creeps down. The moon is creeping up. / The sun is a corbeil of flowers the moon Blanche" (Stanza 1, lines 1-2)4. We soon come to understand that the "dump" from the title is a dump of images and metaphors that were once fresh but are now used up and have been discarded.

As the poem progresses, it continues to make use of unlikely metaphors and images in a seemingly desperate attempt to attain the "freshness of night" and "of morning" in writing (Stanza 2, lines 1-2). Seeming to mock the possibility that artwork or poetry could ever approach actual experience, descriptions "Of the floweriest flowers dewed with the dewiest dew" become objects of contempt until they are thrown away on the dump (Stanza 2 line line 10).

But the speaker of the poem does not totally despair of ever communicating something fresh and new in poetry (or language more broadly). Playing with the Romantic image of the poet as a nightingale singing in the dark to try to cheer itself up, the speakers asks rhetorically: "Did the nightingale torture the ear, / Pack the heart and scratch the mind? And does the ear solace itself in peevish birds?" (Stanza 5, lines 5-6).

The object of poetry should be to provide "solace" or comfort, but to strip language down of its metaphors and images when they no longer communicate anything meaningful. It should be a perpetual search for the answer to the question "Where was it one first heard of the truth?" (Stanza 5, line 14).

Wallace Stevens and Philosophy

Philosophy can be broadly divided into three branches: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Each of these tries to answer different questions. Metaphysics tries to answer the question ‘What exists?’; epistemology ‘What do I know?’; and ethics ‘What should I do?’ Stevens' poetry engages with all three of these branches of philosophy.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of existence. It tries to discover what exists and how the things that exist can be classified or categorized.

In terms of metaphysics, many of Stevens' poems directly address the idea of reality in itself, or things in themselves. This is a term first introduced by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that there must be a distinction between the world as it appears to us and the world as it exists outside of the human mind.

Since everything we experience is mediated through filters such as space, time, and various other ways of categorizing perceptions and thoughts that belong to the human mind, reality in itself is essentially different than the reality that we experience. Many of Stevens' poems revolve around and play with this idea of a real world that contrasts with a world of perception or imagination.

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with what knowledge is. It tries to discover what we know (if anything) and how we can be sure that we know it.

This metaphysical distinction between two types of reality – reality in itself and reality as it is represented in our minds –immediately broaches an epistemological question: can we know reality in itself? For Kant, the answer was no: things in themselves are by definition unknowable.

Stevens plays with this idea, as well, particularly in his conception of a mundo, a world of imagination separate from but dependent on reality. Unlike Kant, however, Stevens does seem to think that we can have knowledge of the real world through the use of reason. Poetry, on the other hand, uses imagination to furnish the world of the mind.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that tries to discover what good and bad actions are and what the right way to live is.

Much of Stevens' work also addresses central questions in ethics. Stevens thought that creating artwork was among the most important of human activities, that it liberates us and affirms the value of our lives in an otherwise bleak and meaningless modern world.3

Quotes from Wallace Stevens

Stevens' poetry often contains philosophical insights into the relationship between poetry, language, and reality. While most of his output was poetic, Stevens occasionally explained his views in lectures and essays towards the end of his life.

Quotations about poetry and philosophy

The poem is a nature created by the poet.

(from Opus Posthumus, 1957)

This quotation reflects Stevens' idea of a mundo, of an imaginative world that is created by poetry. It is distinct from the real world of facts and reason, but not independent of it.

The philosopher searches for an integration for its own sake [...] the poet searches for an integration that shall be not so much sufficient in itself as sufficient for some quality that it possesses, such as its insight, its evocative power, or its appearance in the eye of the imagination. The philosopher intends his integration to be fateful; the poet intends his to be effective.

(from Opus Posthumus, 1957)

Stevens thinks that poetry and philosophy share one basic similarity: they both "integrate," or create ideas. Philosophy wants its ideas to be necessary or true, while poetry is more concerned that its ideas be attractive, exciting, or interesting.

Quotations about belief, death, beauty, and meaning

Death is the mother of beauty.

(from 'Sunday Morning', 1915)

This line from 'Sunday Morning', one of Stevens' most famous poems, states that it is only through the awareness that our lives will one day come to an end that a real understanding of the beauty of lived experience is possible.

The death of one god is the death of all.

(from 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction', 1942)

If, as Nietzsche proclaimed, God is dead, then so are all the comforting beliefs about human life having any special meaning. Stevens acknowledges that we can't go on believing in God in the same way that we once did, but he wants there to be space for a new kind of god, accessible through art, language, and imagination.

It is the belief and not the god that counts.

(from 'Adagia', unpublished)

What really matters in terms of providing meaning for our lives is our belief in the possibility of its being meaningful, regardless of whether God, or meaning, ultimately really exist.

Wallace Stevens - Key takeaways

  • Born in Reading, PA in 1897, Wallace Stevens studied at Harvard before becoming a lawyer and working at an insurance company. He balanced his family life and a full-time career in insurance with being one of the most influential poets of American Modernism.
  • Stevens' poetry was influenced by philosophical questions about the nature of reality and the imagination, and by scientific developments in physics and biology.
  • Stevens was also concerned about the nature of belief in the modern age, and how art and poetry could help give meaning to life instead of traditional religious beliefs.
  • Stevens' poetry is known for its obscure and difficult language. Many of his poems take language itself as their focus, often questioning the possibility of real communication.
  • 'Sunday Morning', which develops the idea that art and poetry can be a kind of replacement for religious belief in the modern world, is one of Stevens' most famous poems. Other well-known poems include 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird', 'The Anecdote of the Jar', 'The Emperor of Ice Cream', and 'The Man on the Dump'.

References

1. F. Kermode. Wallace Stevens. Oliver and Body, 1960.

2. J. McDaniel. “Wallace Stevens and the Scientific Imagination.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 15 No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 221-237.

3. J. Serio. The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

4. W. Stevens. The Palm at the End of the Mind. Vintage, 1971.

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was an insurance claims lawyer and modernist poet who lived from 1879 to 1955.

Along with more well-known writers like T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens is one of the key figures in American Modernist poetry.

Stevens is notorious for his difficult writing style, making extensive use of rare and archaic words, borrowing from French, German, and Latin. His syntax is also complex and often deliberately ambiguous.

Stevens thought of poetry as the construction of an imaginative world that would give meaning to the bare facts of our existence. He sees it as continuous with philosophy, but interested in ideas that are beautiful or exciting rather than true or necessary.

Despite his busy career and family life, Stevens maintained an active writing and publishing schedule for over 40 years. A popular anthology edited by his daughter contains over 200 individual poems, and this represents just part of his total output. His most famous poems include 'Sunday Morning', 'Anecdote of the Jar', and 'The Emperor of Ice Cream'.

Final Wallace Stevens Quiz

Question

Which pair of intellectuals had the most influence on the young Wallace Stevens?

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Answer

William James and George Santayana

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Which best describes Stevens' father?

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A self-made success with lofty goals for his children

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What career did Stevens eventually settle on?

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A lawyer in Hartford

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What best describes Stevens' mother?

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A housewife with deep religious beliefs

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What caused a major fight between Stevens and his father?

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His determination to marry a poor and uneducated woman

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Which scientific theories developed in Stevens' lifetime made nature and reality seem increasingly strange?

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Special relativity and quantum physics

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Which scientific theory developed in Steven's youth was difficult to reconcile with traditional religious beliefs?

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Evolution by natural selection

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Which artistic movements had an influence on Stevens' work?

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Cubism and Impressionism

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Which literary device did Stevens frequently write about in his poetry?

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Metaphor

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Which of the following is not one of Stevens' major poems?

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"The Waste Land"

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Who is the author of "Sunday Morning"?

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Wallace Stevens

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What literary movement is "Sunday Morning" most closely associated with?

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Modernism

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When was "Sunday Morning" first published?

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1915

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What narrative perspective is the poem written in?

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Free indirect

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Which of the following is an important symbol in the poem?

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The sun

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What does the poem conclude is necessary in order to experience the world as beautiful?

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Death

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Which of the following is not a major theme in the poem?

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Travel

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Which of the following is not used in the poem to symbolize natural beauty?

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The moon

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What does the woman in the poem think about Christianity?

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It no longer gives her life meaning

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What is a peignoir?

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A dressing gown

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What literary movement is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" a part of?

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Modernism

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When was "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" published?

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1917

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Which literary device does NOT play a major role in the poem?

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Synechdoche

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Which best describes a "way of looking" in the poem?

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Any kid of perception or conscious thought

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"A man and a woman / are one. / A man and a woman and a blackbird / are one." 

These lines from Stanza IV are divided mid-sentence. What is the name of this literary technique?

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Enjambment

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Who are most likely the "bawds of euphony"?

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people who write for money

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All of the following are important themes in the poem EXCEPT

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The ethics of bird ownership

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The "green light" in Stanza X likely refers to

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Nature

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What does the speaker imply about the "thin men of Haddam" in Stanza VII?

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They are greedy and oblivious

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What do the "noble accents" and "inescapable rhythms" from Stanza VIII most likely refer to?

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Poetry

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What does the pronoun "it" in line 4 of Stanza VI refer to?

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The window

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What is the speaker trying to choose between in Stanza V?

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Pleasure and its anticipation

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