As a poet,"" said Randall Jarrell, ""Stevens has every gift but the dramatic. It is the lack of immediate contact with lives...

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LETTERS OF WALLACE STEVENS

As a poet,"" said Randall Jarrell, ""Stevens has every gift but the dramatic. It is the lack of immediate contact with lives that hurts his poetry more than anything else, that has made it easier and easier for him to abstract, to philosophize..."" The comment is particularly interesting now that we have this jumbo collection of letters, excellently arranged and introduced by his daughter, for to a degree Stevens' correspondence has a rather impersonal tinge to it. Of course, in the extracts from his journal and in the buoyant and revealing epistles written to his wife during courtship, there is a Stevens without any protective coloring, a young and spirited soul, colorful in expression, soul-searching and ambitious, with those wild longings Jarrell perhaps had in mind. Since the span here extends from the Harvard days to his death at 75, the reader is privy to a unique development. One learns how Stevens' fastidious devotion to craft and his penchant for privacy delayed the publishing of his first volume, Harmonium, till he was in his forties, and how public indifference and critical stupidity bogged down his creative activity and influenced the deployment of energy elsewhere (as a lawyer with and eventually a vice-president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company). Indeed, the singular double career of Stevens, the world of business and of the imagination, is pretty much the underlying theme reflected here, and reading of his travels in Florida and Cuba, his correspondence with fellow poets, his unflagging intellectual interests, and his lifelong thirst for order and balance, one gets some much needed insights into the austere humanism of a great and complex figure.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1966

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1966