chapter
Delmore Schwartz, on ‘an inspired minister in a small church’, from ‘Auden and Stevens’, Partisan Review
Pages 11

Transport to Summer continues, extends, and enrichens the themes which dominated Wallace Stevens’ previous books. He is writing again of the nature of poetry, of the way in which the imagination struggles with reality, of the necessity and ultimate poverty of ideas face to face with the darkness, variety, and endlessness of reality. To think of this new book and of his work as a whole within the arena or circus tent of modern literature is to come upon a fabulous image: Stevens is like an inspired minister in a small church (the church, however, is within the circus tent) who preaches sermons in celebration and in praise of poetry, reality, and their various relations. His listeners are other poets, but not all other poets. No one else appears to be interested enough to attend, and if anyone else did, he would be perplexed by what Stevens is saying and how he is saying it. For only poets remember that a good book must be conquered like a foreign language, and he who runs cannot read. It is true that there are times when Stevens’ tropes are too tangential or peculiar to his own sensibility: he speaks once o f ‘Marianna’s Swedish cart,’ an allusion which can only be fully understood if one has read and remembered a recent poem by Marianne Moore. But this example is extreme. R. P. Blackmur has remarked that Stevens’ poems ‘grow in the mind.’ At each new reading or new memory of them, one comes upon an astonishing

lucidity, while metaphors and references which seem private or opaque become clear, necessary, fresh, and original as a discovery or an invention. The texture of Stevens’ poetry is often visual, gay, and verbal in such a way that the reader may easily miss the seriousness and the passion of the attitudes and the emotions which are its substance. The starting point of so many poems is so often poetry itself, poetry as such, that Stevens may often seem to be merely the poet who is writing poetry about poetry. But it is as if a man who started to dig a well dug so long and so deeply that he dug his way to China. Stevens seeks out so many of the inexhaustible connections of poetry that he unearths a great deal of the actual world. Which is what one would expect: if you study anything closely enough, you find yourself studying a great many other things, of necessity. As Stevens says in one of his new poems, ‘Adam in Eden was the father of Descartes.’ Or, as in the motion of many of his poems, poetry brings one to the imagination which brings one to what is not imagined but actual which brings one to wonder which is which or Descartes, and whether Adam was as metaphysical and critical as Descartes, and in the end the poet has written a new poem in which the actual world becomes new again__

Vol. XXXVII, no. 2, December 1947, 339-41

Martz also reviews books by George Barker, Joan Murray, John Frederick Nims, Elizabeth Bishop, and Auden’s The Age o f Anxiety.