Document Type



Spring 1992


Wallace Stevens, Harmonium, Poetry




Arts and Humanities


IN 193 I, not quite a year into the Great Depression, Wallace Stevens and his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, agreed that there ought to be a new edition of his first book, Harmonium (1923). Stevens decided to delete three poems and add fourteen. Most of these "new" poems had indeed been written after Stevens brought the manuscript of his first book to Knopf in December 1922, yet none had been written after 1924. But poetry, or rather the status of poetry, had changed a great deal during the seven years since Stevens had ceased to think of himself as a working poet. Imagining the shock he felt when he realized what transformations had occurred is not difficult. While there is little hard evidence-no archival and slight textual-to support the point, it is reinforced by the very reticence of the poems with which Stevens began again in the early thirties after a long period of silence. I would contend that certain leftist uses of Harmonium, presuming he saw them, pushed him along. There were solemn radicalizations of "Sunday Morning", such as Horace Gregory's "Sunday Morning: Rotogravure Section", which was obviously intended to show how far poets had come from wistful lingering over coffee and oranges, to anxious close reading of the Sunday supplements.


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