Rollie McKenna (1918–2003) Gelatin silver print, 1952
There is a heft or weight, almost an implacability, to Wallace Stevens’s poetry that sets him off from his contemporaries, especially his main modernist rivals, Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams.
Unlike them, and almost singularly among American poets, Stevens avoided the inheritance of Walt Whitman, both thematically and stylistically. His consideration was never American democracy, and he was never interested in the jauntiness of a more vernacular or popular verse. Harkening back to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stevens made himself into the one modern American poet concerned with the metaphysics of belief and the one American modernist who transcended his nation.
While Williams famously proclaimed “no ideas but in things,” Stevens rejoined, “It is easier to believe in a thing created by the imagination.” Unlike Emerson, Stevens believed that you could replace God with poetry and its “supreme fiction,” hence the necessary gravity and heft of his poems; even his humor is weighty.
I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after.Wallace Stevens From “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” 1923