Poetry Sunday: Evening Without Angels

Poetry Sunday: Evening Without Angels June 21, 2009

In a comment on April’s Poetry Sunday, Eric suggested another post featuring Wallace Stevens. I wanted to reprint Wilfred Owen’s poem last month in honor of Memorial Day, but I’m always open to requests.

Today’s post, like my previous selection from Stevens, highlights the poet’s naturalistic, humanist views. According to Alan D. Perlis’ book Wallace Stevens: A World of Transforming Shapes, this poem “eliminates angels from this world only to elevate the human soul to an angelic height”.

Wallace Stevens was born in Pennsylvania in 1879 and attended Harvard University, and after his graduation worked as a lawyer and insurance agent. Unlike many famous 20th century poets, Stevens led a relatively quiet and uneventful life, often composing poems during his commute to and from the office. Despite this, and despite the late flowering of his artistic genius (he did not begin publishing until the age of 35, and many of his greatest works were published after he was 50), he is today recognized as one of the major modernist poets of the 20th century. He also held a firmly non-religious and humanist viewpoint; in his book Opus Posthumous, he wrote, “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” His published works include Harmonium (1923), The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), The Auroras of Autumn (1950), and The Palm at the End of the Mind (1972). His Collected Poems (1954) won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and late in life he turned down an offer of a professorship from Harvard to remain at his insurance job.

Evening Without Angels

the great interests of man: air and light,
the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness
of looking.
—Mario Rossi

Why seraphim like lutanists arranged
Above the trees? And why the poet as
Eternal chef d’orchestre?

                                Air is air,
Its vacancy glitters round us everywhere.
Its sounds are not angelic syllables
But our unfashioned spirits realized
More sharply in more furious selves.

Read the rest.

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