Wallace Stevens: Images and Judgments

By John J. Enck | Go to book overview

2 ON THE HARMONIUM

As a man becomes familiar with his own poetry, it becomes as obsolete for himself as for anyone else.

WALLACE STEVENS [220b]

As to the quality of the verse, I should like to say this: that if it seems inferior to that of the original play, I must ask the critic to observe that I had to imitate a style which I had abandoned as unsuitable for other purposes than that of this one play, and that to compose 2 pastiche of one's own work some years later is almost as difficult as to imitate the work of another writer.

T. S. ELIOT1

A HISTORY tracing English poets' progress, even as individuals to say nothing of them collectively, during the first half of the twentieth century awaits its chronicler; the chore still raises formidable barriers: sources, familiarity, perspectives, and goals. The supposed obscurities of the Imagists and other cults lent their work a specious affinity. After many explications by critics and changes in the authors, a partial picture starts emerging. T. S. Eliot's metamorphosis offers the straightest approach: The Cocktail Party explains "Little Gidding," which clarifies "Ash Wednesday," which leads back to The Waste Land, which describes "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," whose negations complement the moralizing in The Elder Statesman. The titles, of course, exist independently, but anyone helped by diagrams will learn from chronological differences. With Stevens, congenitally incapable of playing old

-43-

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