Wallace Stevens: Excerpts from Letters

to Harriet Monroe

6 June 1915

Provided your selection of the numbers of Sunday Morning is printed in the following order: I, VIII, IV, V, I see no objection to cutting down. The order is necessary to the idea. ...

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 183.

to Harriet Monroe

6 June 1915

No. 7 of Sunday Morning is, as you suggest, of a different tone, but it does not seem to be too detached to conclude with.

The words "On disregarded plate" in No. 5 are, apparently, obscure. Plate is used in the sense of so-called family plate. Disregarded refers to the disuse into which things fall that have been possessed for a long time. I mean, therefore, that death releases and renews. What the old have come to disregard, the young inherit and make use of. …

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 233.

To His Wife

(from Long Key, Florida, 30 January 1923)

… I have about decided to go to Key West on Thursday or Friday and cross to Havana on the ferry and spend a day or two there sight-seeing. I shall have to pay for that myself but I cannot feel that it would be a great sin to indulge myself now that I am so near. Tomorrow several of the crowd are going out in boats for the big fish but I do not intend to go along. One day is enough. Besides I got so burned by the sun on Monday that another day of it so soon might blister my skin. The beauty of this place is indescribable. This morning the sea was glittering gold and intense deep blue. When it grew cloudy later the sea turned to green and black. Later in the morning it faired off, as they say, and by noon there was not a cloud in the sky. The sky is perfectly clear and the moon full tonight. The palms are murmuring in the incessant breeze and, as Judge Powell said, we are drowned in beauty. But with all that, there are a most uncalled for number of mosquitoes. My knees and wrists are covered with bites.

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 233.

To William Rose BenÚt

(Hartford, Conn. 6 January 1933)

I think I should select from my poems as my favorite the Emperor of Ice Cream. This wears a deliberately commonplace costume, and yet seems to me to contain something of the essential gaudiness of poetry; that is the reason why I like it.

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 263.

To Hi Simons

Hartford, Conn. 12 January 1940

… A few months ago, the universal fear (I use the word fear, because I have no sympathy with communism, instead of expectation) was that the world would go communistic, if in fact it had not already done so without realizing it, except in the matter of putting it into effect. Communism is just a new romanticism. I am going to include in this comment a comment on your statement that I am on the right. Of course, I believe in any number of things that so-called social revolutionists believe in, but I don’t believe in calling myself a revolutionist simply because I believe in doing everything practically possible you improve the condition of the workers, and because I believe in education as the source of freedom and power, and because I regret that we have not experimented a little bit more extensively in public ownership of public utilities. What really divides men into political classes in respect to these things is not the degree to which they believe in them but the ways and means of putting their beliefs into effect. There are a lot of things that the workers are doing that I do not believe in, even though, at the same time, I want certainly as ardently as they do to see them able to live decently and in security and to educate their children and to have pleasant homes, etc. I believe that they could procure these things within the present frame-work.

… I suppose that, from the point of view of common usage, I am against the CIO and with the AF of L. But this is all most incidental with me and rather a ridiculous thing for me to be talking about. My direct interests are with something quite different; my direct interest is in telling the Archbishop of Canterbury to go jump off the end of the dock. …

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 351.

To Oscar Williams

Hartford, Conn. 4 December 1944

… I wonder if the war has not ceased to affect us except as a part of necessity, as something that must be carried on and finished, with no end to the sacrifice involved. But I think that even the men in the Army etc. feel that it is no longer anything except an overwhelming grind. The big thing in the world today, the thing that really involves the future, is not the war but the leftist movement. Just at the moment it seems clear that the proletarian politics of the New Deal and its efforts to improve the condition of labor, have created in the labor movement a force quite as great as the force of war, which will survive the war, so that, in that sense, it is definitely the great thing in the world today, or so it seems to me.

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 479-480.

To JosÚ Rodriguez Feo

Hartford, Conn., 29 July 1949

Midsummer is a suffocating time and I long, not for Cuba, but for a cottage, say, in Sweden on a lake surrounded by dark green forests in which all the trees talk Swedish. The repetition of one’s experiences in a single spot year after year is deadly. But, then, so too is a life without the need of a job and without the plans that one is constantly making to amuse oneself. Even the scholar must have a subject for his life and however suffocating this time of year may be it has always been a time when I am happiest, as if the world had become composed at last.

Today I had lunch at the Canoe Club, with three Martinis. Richard Eberhart of Cambridge was here a week or two ago and I took him there. From him I was able to find out something about the death of Theodore Spencer. It seems that Spencer had had a heart attack a year ago. Thus, he must have known when the fatal attack came on how serious the situation was. When the taxi stopped in front of his house and the driver opened the door Spencer’s big foot fell out. While I never knew him well I wish I had. We came from the same part of the world. We must have had much in common. And one is always desperately in need of the fellowship of one’s own kind. I don’t mean intellectual fellowship, but the fellowship of one’s province: membership in a clique, the fellowship of the landsman and compatriot…

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 644.

To Joseph Bennett

Hartford, Conn. 8 February 1955

… In order to comment on Walt Whitman conscientiously, I ought to re-read him and this is more than I have the time to do at the moment. Last Sunday I read him for several hours and if a few offhand remarks as a result of that reading would be of any interest to you, here they are.

I can well believe that he remains highly vital for many people. The poems in which he collects large numbers of concrete things, particularly things each of which is poetic in itself or as part of the collection, have a validity which, for many people, must be enough and must seem to them all opulence and elan.

For others, I imagine that what was once opulent begins to look a little threadbare and the collections seem substitutes for opulence even though they remain gatherings-together of precious Americana, certain to remain precious but not certain to remain poetry. The typical elan survives in many things.

It seems to me, then, that Whitman is disintegrating as the world, of which he made himself a part, disintegrates. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry exhibits this disintegration. …

It is useless to treat everything in Whitman as of equal merit. A great deal of it exhibits little or none of his specific power. He seems often to have himself to write like himself. The good things, the superbly beautiful and moving things, are those that he wrote naturally, with an extemporaneous and irrepressible vehemence of emotion …

from Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), 870-71.

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