Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing

By Bart Eeckhout | Go to book overview

Introduction

An Impossible Possible Philosophers' Poetry

If you say on the hautboy man is not enough, Can never stand as god, is ever wrong In the end, however naked, tall, there is still The impossible possible philosophers' man, The man who has had the time to think enough, The central man, the human globe, responsive As a mirror with a voice, the man of glass, Who in a million diamonds sums us up.

∼Wallace Stevens, “Asides on the Oboe”

THE POETRY OF WALLACE STEVENS is full of limits and questions of liminality. At the most straightforward, thematic level, this is immediately obvious from a wealth of liminal scenes: whether it is twenty men crossing a bridge into a village, a blackbird marking the edge of one of many circles, flocks of pigeons winging their way down into darkness, the latest freed man sitting at the edge of his bed, one of the limits of reality presenting itself in Oley, an old philosopher on the threshold of heaven, or the palm at the end of the mind on the edge of space, we come across limits and liminal situations at every point throughout the collected poetry. This thematic focus is further enhanced by Stevens's well-attested predilection for the most archetypical binary divisions, such as day and night, sun and moon, sea and earth (or sea and sky, earth and sky), summer and winter (or their transitions, spring and fall), matter and mind, or reality and the imagination. The ubiquity of such poetically pedigreed oppositions in his work may even count as an important reason for his relatively smooth assimilation into the poetic canon, whose traditional topoi he so inventively and extensively developed as to

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