• U.S.

Books: Poetry, Nov. 2, 1942

2 minute read

PARTS OF A WORLD—Wallace Stevens —Knopf ($2).

This is the fourth book* that gives the customers reason to stare hard at Wallace Stevens, famed poetical solipsist who wears the world in his hat. For many years this startling person has spent his normal working hours disguised as a lawyer-employe of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., of which he is vice president. Betweenwhiles Stevens, now aged 63, has kept adding to the bulk and scope of his poetical testament.

At first sight Stevens’ mental world looks like a five-ring circus of private hallucinations. This effect is partly deliberate, since Stevens is enough of an art snob to enjoy amazing an audience. But he is, despite his snobbery, one of the most seriously purposive poets alive.

As Stevens sees things, all that is esthetically ugly or morally wrong in the world proceeds from people’s misconceptions of reality. People misconceive reality, according to his diagnosis, because they think about it without imagination or by rote. This distresses Stevens, because such thinking litters up the world with all kinds of rusty cast-iron conceptions.

Parts of a World is a book to quicken people’s awareness of the difference between rote and imagination. His 60-odd lyrics are tailored to meet the specifications of his idea of an ordered world. They are all intended to show that the imagination is that faculty in man which enables him to tailor facts after his heart’s desire. The tailoring, however, is not to be done by mere wishful thinking, but by the bowing of the skilled workman over his fully apprehended job.

As a man whose job it is to make the words he uses make complete sense, Stevens fails—sometimes in an ugly way, sometimes scintillatingly, sometimes inspiringly. The voice of the poet deepens steadily right up to his viaticum, delivered to the world at war:

We live in a camp. . . . Stanzas of final peace

Lie in the heart’s residuum. . . . Amen.

*The previous three: Harmonium, Ideas of Order, The Man with the Blue Guitar.

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