- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Wallace Stevens on Art, Poetry, the Imagination, and More

Happy birthday, Wallace Stevens! Here are some quotes from the poet:


“The world is a force not a presence.”


“It is not everyday the world arranges itself into a poem.”


“The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.”


“The imagination is one of the forces of nature.”


“Poetry is a purging of the world’s poverty and change and evil and death. It is a present perfecting, a satisfaction in the irremediable poverty of life.”


“After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.”


“Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.”


“To have nothing to say and to say it in a tragic manner is not the same thing as having something to say.”


“The imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos.”


“What the poet has in mind…is that poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of imagination. The poet tries to exemplify it…by identifying it with an imaginative activity that diffuses itself throughout our lives.”


“For the poet, the imagination is paramount, and…he dwells apart in his imagination, as the philosopher dwells in his reason, and as the priest dwells in his belief…The imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things.”


“I like my philosophy smothered in beauty and not the opposite.”


“Everything is complicated; if that were not so, life and poetry and everything else would be a bore.”


“A diary is more or less the work of a man of clay whose hands are clumsy and in whose eyes there is no light.”


“One ought not to hoard culture. It should be adapted and infused into society as a leaven. Liberality of culture does not mean illiberality of its benefits.”


“Poetry is the expression of the experience of poetry.”


“The genuine artist is never ‘true to life.’ He sees what is real, but not as we are normally aware of it. We do not go storming through life like actors in a play. Art is never real life.”


“To regard the imagination as metaphysics is to think of it as part of life, and to think of it as part of life is to realize the extent of artifice. We live in the mind.”


“What our eyes behold may well be the text of life but one’s meditations on the text and the disclosures of these meditations are no less a part of the structure of reality.”


“Thought is an infection. In the case of certain thoughts, it becomes an epidemic.”


“The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind,
If one may say so.”


“One cannot spend one’s time in being modern when there are so many more important things to be.”


“All the great things have been denied and we live in an intricacy of new and local mythologies, political, economic, poetic, which are asserted with an ever-enlarging incoherence.”


“A poem need not have a meaning and like most things in nature often does not have.”


“How has the human spirit ever survived the terrific literature with which it has had to contend?”


“Perhaps it is of more value to infuriate philosophers than to go along with them.”


“The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself.”


“Death is the mother of Beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.”


the truth depends on a walk around the lake…”


“The way through the world
Is more difficult to find than the way beyond it.”


“The summer night is like a perfection of thought.”


“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections,
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling,
Or just after.”


“After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future of the world depends.”


  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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