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Helen Vendler on Stevens’s Anger and Desire

“The lapses and failures of idealization–especially the idealization of romantic love, forced on us by nature, culture, and, above all, literature–press Stevens to an ever more stringent, and even harsh, analysis of the interrelation of the emotion’s flights and their eventual correction in time.”  This harshness is “an expression of an anger that a mind so designed for adoration never found an adoration and sensuality compatible; they remained locked compartments, a source of emotional confusion and bitterness.” (p.28)


2 thoughts on “Helen Vendler on Stevens’s Anger and Desire

  1. Stevens is occasionally ‘bitter’ (Good Man, Bad Woman), but in this snippet, it sounds like Vendler is calling his poems generally increasingly “harsh analys[es] of the interrelation of emotion’s flights and their eventual correction in time”. Vendler’s words “harsh”, “flights”, and “correction” seem to me to be only infrequently useful in following Stevens’s assertive meditations on the constant composition of imagination and reality by each other. “[E]motional confusion and bitterness”?? I’d have to see this heurism fitted accurately onto/into a lot of Stevens’s poems to be convinced.

    Great title: words ‘selected’ in and from – and ineluctably representative of – the flush of desire? or words ‘picked’ out of and shaken free from desire – especially in the case that ‘desire’ is not where they belong?

    1. For more read the first chapter of the book. She goes from the first poems to the last.

      I guess, my way of saying what is up there is this: he used what he had, what he had (in terms of his marriage) wasn’t exactly the best, but he lived it out. He didn’t shy away, it seems he fought for what he believed in in marrying his wife to begin with – his father (who disapproved) never came to the wedding and they never spoke again.

      I’ll make a sweeping generalization: anyone that disowns someone (esp. a loved one) will feel the effects their whole life. I would think he did. But great writers can manufacture many selves, and he did. But the self I hear in the poems again and again, the one reaching to find the final form, is sometimes standoffish, sometimes weary, but true – he liked to say goodbye to things – see how many of the poems have “farewell” in them or some sort of send off.

      Dylan does this as well, the goodbye, the I’m not right for you, please let me be, but when left he is wailing…that last past is not Stevens.

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