Wallace Stevens was considered as one of the most critical American Modernist poets of the 20th century. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and received education at Harvard and afterwards in New York Law School. Apart from being deeply indulged in poetry, he spent a considerable time of his life as a lawyer for the Hartford Insurance Company in Connecticut. Stevens mostly ignored the literary world and did not grab extensive recognition and popularity until his “Collected Poems” got published. Stevens, in this work, dived inside a thoughtful philosophical framework. Some of his most popular and best-known poems are “Anecdote of the Jar”, “Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock”, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”, “The Idea of Order at Key West”, “Sunday Morning”, and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. All these poems were published in the “Collected Poems”. For the same he received prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955.
Wallace Stevens Childhood, Early Life and Career
Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879 in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a successful lawyer. He enrolled in Harvard as a non-degree special student. Afterwards, Stevens shifted to New York City and initially worked as a journalist for a short period of time. Later, he went to New York Law School and graduated in 1903. In 1904, when he was returning back to Reading, Stevens met Elsie Viola Kachel, a young lady who later became his wife. In 1913, he rented an apartment in the New York City from sculptor Adolph A. Weinman. From 1904 to 1907, Stevens worked for a number of New York law companies and finally was appointed as a lawyer for the American Bonding Company on 13th January, 1908. By the year 1914, Stevens had gained the position of the vice-president of the New York office of the Equitable Surety Company of St. Louis, Missouri. But when mergers took place in 1916, this job got dissolved. He, then, joined the home office of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and moved to Hartford. Stevens became the vice-president of this company by 1934. After Stevens received the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, he was offered to teach at Harvard but denied the same as he did not want to leave his vice-presidency of The Hartford.
From 1922 to 1940, Stevens visited to Key West Florida many time and stayed at the Casa Marina, a hotel on the Atlantic Ocean. The place showered a great influence on Stevens’ poetry which is apparent in his various works, especially poems published in his initial collections such as “Harmonium” and “Ideas of Order”. In the same hotel, he got acquainted with another prominent poet Robert Frost in February 1935. The meeting was not a healthy one and both of them argued. Later, Frost had reported that Stevens was drunk and acted inappropriately. In 1936, Stevens allegedly assaulted Ernest Hemingway at a party at the Waddell Avenue home. In the effort to hit Hemingway's jaw, Stevens broke his hand as reportedly he was knocked to the street by Hemingway. He later apologized for his inapt behavior. Stevens last visited Key West in 1940. During 1930s and 40s, Stevens was invited as a member of the exclusive set centered on the artistic and literary devotees Barbara and Henry Church. All his life, Steven remained quite conservative towards politics.
Stevens wrote his first major publication at the age of thirty-five. It compiled four poems from a sequence titled "Phases" in the November 1914 issue of the Poetry Magazine. Most of his recognized works were written well after the age of fifty. His first book of poetry which was a volume of rococo inventiveness entitled “Harmonium” was published in 1923. He wrote another two major books during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1940s, he completed three more poetry books. He was awarded with the National Book Award in 1951 and 1955. His works were mainly meditative and philosophical. The imagination in the poetry of Stevens was not equal to consciousness and reality wasn’t to the world which exists outside the mind of the people. This thought of Stevens can be traced in his works, “The Idea of Order at Key West” and “Opus Posthumous.” From his initial works only, critics started praising his works. His popularity greatly enhanced after his death. In 1977, David Hockney came out with a book titled “"The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso". This book contained poetry of Stevens. The work was published as a portfolio and as a book in 1997 by Petersburg Press.
Stevens married Elsie Viola Kachel in 1909 despite strong objections from his parents, who regarded her lower-class woman. The couple had a daughter, Holly who was born in 1924. In the later years, Elsie Stevens started to show symptoms of mental illness due to which their marriage also suffered, but the couple never got divorced.
It is believed that Stevens was baptized a Catholic by Fr. Arthur Hanley, chaplain of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut in April 1955. It was there that Stevens spent last days of his life as he contracted with stomach cancer. Soon after, he was discharged from the hospital, he was readmitted. Stevens died on August 2, 1955, aged 75. He was in Hartford's Cedar Hill Cemetery.
The Snow Man
Ideas of Order
The Man with the Blue Guitar
Parts of a World
Transport to Summer
The Auroras of Autumn
The Necessary Angel
The Palm at the End of the Mind
Collected Poetry and Prose