AN INITIAL NOTE about the origins of this book may help explain the acknowledgments. Twenty years ago, an undergraduate and about to be drafted into the army, I bought the four volumes which Stevens had published to that time and read them as preferable to assignments or war, neither of which could I quite ignore. Since then, returning to his poems unofficially has continued to give me more pleasure than that provided by any contemporary writer. Inevitably, no commentary on him struck me as entirely satisfactory, so I began noting my responses: the manuscript grew haphazardly. Believing that systematic attempts to extract a rigorous philosophy out of his poems or, more damaging, to press a thesis down upon them guarantee misunderstandings, I favored from the outset a loosely chronological arrangement which lets points emerge casually. In the conclusion, a bit against my better judgment, I set forth a general statement but do not pretend that it achieves completeness. If my chapters succeed at all, they will say a few first but no final words.
With so informal a method I must along the way have picked up others' concepts, which I have come to consider my own. While preparing this version, I reviewed or dutifully consulted most criticism about him. One reader has described my attitude toward these pieces as uncharitable, a term I object to as unduly harsh. Trying to arrive at a statement about many of his topics does demand the greatest ingenuity from anyone, although the effort in the very process produces its unique, generous rewards. I sometimes quote others to concede that alternate interpretations have their