Bergson and American Culture: The Worlds of Willa Cather and Wallace Stevens

By Tom Quirk | Go to book overview

SIX

The Makings of a Self

I

IN THE LAST CHAPTER we examined Harmonium at length because its poetry issued from a vision congruent with widespread prewar enthusiasms for and assurances of a new, vital reality. The philosophical foundations of this new worldview were peculiarly appropriate and congenial to the efforts of the creative imagination. To the extent that Stevens was in agreement with and participated in the intellectual currents of his day, his poetry is historically conditioned, and to that extent, too, the poems of Harmonium radiate outward from the poet's own sense of the world, which, as Stevens would claim, is the poet's richest and truest and most authentic subject. His antagonism toward late nineteenth-century intellectualism, his hymns in praise of the incessant change of the natural world, his exuberant attempt to redirect the attention to the things of the earth, his celebration of the transmuting power of the imagination as an active and enabling principle—all these contributed to the emotional coherence of Harmonium. How complete was Stevens's engagement in the rendering of this reality, how totally and adequately Harmonium represented what he had to say at a time especially conducive to his saying it, may be suggested by the fact that after its publication in 1923 he would not publish another poem for several years. How central to and representative of his poetic vision it was may be suggested by the fact that Stevens at one time thought his first volume should be entitled "THE GRAND POEM: PRELIMINARY MINUTIAE" (LWS 237-38).

When he resumed publication of his poetry, his productivity was prodigious. In addition to the revised edition of Harmonium (1931), he published five more volumes of verse—Ideas of Order (1936), The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), Parts of a World (1942), Transport to Summer (1947), and Auroras of Autumn (1950)—and The Collected Poems (1950) included a final

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Bergson and American Culture: The Worlds of Willa Cather and Wallace Stevens
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Bergson and American Culture - The Worlds of Willa Cather and Wallace Stevens *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • A Note on Texts and Abbreviations *
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction - A Note on Method and Intent *
  • One - Naturalism or Idealism? *
  • Two - A New Reality *
  • Three - The Road Home *
  • Four - Fragments of Desire *
  • Five - Poetry and the System of the World *
  • Six - The Makings of a Self *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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