ENGL 633/733
Major American Writers: Wallace Stevens
About the course
Stevens Photos
Course Requirements
A Wallace Stevens Lexicon
Stevens and Painting
Lavery on Stevens
Seminar Members
Work by Class Member
1250-0310 pm, PH 303A
Dr. David Lavery,  English Department
Elizabeth Park, Hartford, CT

The west wind was the music, the motion, the force, 
To which the swans curveted, a will to change 
A will to make iris-frettings on the blank.


The main text for the class will be Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose (SCPP) by Wallace Stevens, edited by Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson. Hardcover - 1050 pages (1997) Library of America; ISBN: 1883011450

You will also be reading Stuart Flack's play, American Life and Casualty (a handout, also available on the web).

Seminar Members

Degree Seeking
E-mail Address
Larry Adams
Susan Brow
Jeremy Brown
Carol Chapman
Gail Dayton
Robert Lawrence
David Summar
Lisa Williams
About the Course
When I first taught this class in the summer of 1994, I thought of it as a "full immersion" approach to Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), one of the most difficult and demanding poets imaginable and now considered to be one of the major poets in English of the 20th Century. In a new, radical approach to acquiring a foreign language (pioneered, I believe, by Middlebury College in Vermont), students were locked in a dorm for a set period of time and required to "immerse" themselves completely in the language they sought to acquire, giving up English, plunging, sink or swim, into Spanish, French, German, etc. To learn to read Stevens, I theorized, we would need to approach his masterful poetry as a kind of foreign language. A summer term graduate course, it seemed, would be an ideal time to undertake such a demanding task, and indeed the class was, in my estimation, a great success; I rank it as one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in twenty eight years of teaching. I think the seminarians—Mary Suchan, Rosie Duplas, Tim Henderson, Jim Baker, Pat Bradley, Mark Roberts, Randy Mackin, Mandy McDougal, Shirley Cohn, Tim Long, Renee Lewis—would agree. Each seminarian earned a diploma certifying his/her fluency at the end of the course.
This summer's reincarnation of the Stevens seminar will be very like the first. We will immerse ourselves in Stevens' poetry and prose (from The Necessary Angel). As in the first Stevens seminar, we will read Stuart Flack's wonderful play about an imaginary meeting—an encounter which takes us behind the scenes of the always very private Stevens' home and marriage—between the poet and his fellow Connecticut resident, the modernist composer Charles Ives. But the text(s) will be different this time:

Charles and Harmony Ives
the recent appearance of the Kermode/Richardson edited Library of America collection Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose makes virtually everything we will need to read available in one volume.
This time around I plan is to put an even greater emphasis on Stevens the man. I am at work on a book called Genius at Work: Wallace Stevens, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and  Avocational Creativity, a study, grounded in Howard E. Gruber's case study approach to the creative process) of the "avocational" creative lives of Stevens and linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf both employees (in the same building) of the Hartford Insurance Company— Stevens was a bond surety lawyer and eventually a vice-president; Whorf a fire insurance engineer—and both amateur "geniuses" who managed to make huge contributions to the 

B. L. Whorf
life of the mind while holding down a full-time job. (Ives, by the way, was also an insurance executive—with a rival company—and avocational genius.)  I hope not only to present to you some of the results of my research but to involve you in it, as we seek to understand not only Stevens' poetry but the creative process.

And I hope to do more this summer with Stevens and the other arts, particularly painting.

Photographs of Wallace Stevens
Click on any photo to see a larger version.




Elsie and Wallace Stevens

 Stevens and Holly (1925)

Elsie Stevens
and Wallace Stevens (1938)

Wallace Stevens 1939

Wallace Stevens 1940

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens 1948

Wallace Stevens 1952

Wallace Stevens 1955

Course Requirements
All writing for the course will be made available on Feigning With the Strange Unlike: A Wallace Stevens WWW Site. Please give me disk copies of your essays in Microsoft Word.

A short essay (1250-1500 words) interpreting an individual Wallace Stevens poem (or part of a long poem). 30% of grade
A review of a book on Wallace Stevens, or a twenty item annotated bibliography. 30% of grade
Entries for a “Wallace Stevens Lexicon” to be made available on the World Wide Web. See the list of possible terms on this syllabus. (See handout.) 20% of grade
Class participation
10% of grade


Subject/Reading Assignments (pages in SCPP)
Requirements Due
June 1
Introduction. Wallace Stevens: Man Made Out of Words (videotape from the PBS Voices and Visions series); Adagia 900  
June 2
American Life and Casualty (handout)--performed in class
June 3
Domination of Black 7; The Snow Man 8; Le Monocle de Mon Oncle 10; Metaphors of a Magnifico 15; The Doctor of Geneva 19; The Comedian as the Letter C 22; On the Surface of Things 45; A High Toned Old Christian Woman 47
June 7
The Place of the Solitaires 47; The Curtains in the House of the Metaphysician 49; The Emperor of Ice Cream 50; Sunday Morning 53; Six Significant  Landscapes 58; Anecdote of the Jar 60; Life is Motion 65
June 8
Tattoo 64; To the One of Fictive Music 70; Peter Quince at the Clavier 72; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird 74; The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad 81; Sea Surface Full  of Clouds 82
June 9
The Idea of Order at Key West 105; The Sun This March 108; Evening Without Angels 111; The Man with the Blue Guitar 135
June 10
Poetry Is a Destructive Force 178; The Poems of Our Climate 179' Study of Two  Pears 180; The Glass of Water; The Man on the Dump 184; The Latest Freed Man 187; Anything is Beautiful If You Say It Is 191
June 14
Connoisseur of Chaos 184; The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man 205; Of Modern Poetry 218; Woman Looking at a Vase of Flowers 223; Mrs. Alfred Uruguay 225; Aside on an Oboe 226; Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas 227; Phosphor Reading by His Own Light 240
June 15
Wallace Stevens and Benjamin Lee Whorf. "Imagination and Insurance: Wallace Stevens and Benjamin Lee Whorf at the Hartford" (handout); "The Mind of Benjamin Lee Whorf" (handout);  The Benjamin Lee Whorf WWW Site
June 16
The Motive for Metaphor 257; So-and-So Reclining on Her Couch 262; Chocorua to Its Neighbor 263; Crude Foyer 270; The Creations of Sound 274; Esthétique du Mal 277; Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit 288; The Pure Good of Theory 289; A Word with José Rodriguez-Feo 292; Paisant Chronicle 283
June 17
Description without Place 296; Man Carrying Thing 306; A Completely New Set of Objects 307; Men Made Out of Words 309; Thinking of a Relation Between the Images of Metaphors 310; Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion 311; Credences of Summer 322
June 21
The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination 637-751 Critical Essay Due
June 22
The Necessary Angel (continued)
June 23
Notebooks 897; Journals and Letters 923
June 24
Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction 329
June 28
The Auroras of Autumn 355; Large Red Man Reading 365; The Solitude of Cataracts 366; The Ultimate Poem is Abstract 369; The Owl in the Sarcophagus 371 Book Review / Annotated Bib Due
June 29
Saint John and the Back-Ache 375;  A Primitive Like an Orb 377; Metaphor as Degeneration 381; What We See is What We Think 392; Angel Surrounded by Paysans 423
June 30
An Ordinary Evening in New Haven 399; The Plain Sense of Things 428; Vacancy in the Park 434; The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain 435; Two Illustrations That the World is What You Make of It  435; Prologues to What is Possible 437; Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly 439; The World as Meditation 441
July 1
Long and Sluggish Lines 442; A  Quiet Normal Life 443; Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour 444; The Rock 445; The Planet on the Table 450; The River of Rivers in Connecticut 451; Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself 451; First Warmth 597; As You Leave the Room 597 All Stevens Lexicon Entries Due