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A Final Seriousness: Wallace Stevens' Late Poems Revisited

Nov 2 2017 4:30pm
Swift Hall, Room 106
1025 E 58th St,
Chicago, IL 60637
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Paul Mariani

Boston College

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Free and open to the public. Cosponsored by the Program in Poetry and Poetics and the Seminary Coop Bookstore. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

ABOUT The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens by Paul Mariani

A perceptive, enlightening biography of one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century, as seen through his lifelong quest to find and describe the sublime in the human experience.

Wallace Stevens lived a richly imaginative life that found expression in his poetry. His philosophical questioning, spiritual depth, and brilliantly inventive use of language would be profound influences on poets as diverse as William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. The Whole Harmonium presents Stevens within the living context of his times, and as the creator of a poetry which has had a profound and lasting impact on the modern imagination itself.

Stevens established his career as an executive even as he wrote his poetry, becoming a vice president with an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. His first and most influential book, Harmonium, was not published until he was forty-four years old. In these poems, Stevens drew on his interest in and understanding of modernism. Over time he became acquainted with the most accomplished of his contemporaries, Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams among them, but his personal style remained unique. He endured an increasingly unhappy marriage, losing himself by writing poetry in his study. Yet he had a witty, comic, and Dionysian side to his personality, including long fishing (and drinking) trips to Florida with his pals and a fascination with the sun-drenched tropics.

People generally know two things about Wallace Stevens: that he is a “difficult” poet and that he was an insurance executive for most of his life. Stevens may be challenging to understand, but he is also greatly rewarding to read. Now, sixty years after Stevens’ death, biographer and poet Paul Mariani shows how over the course of his life, Stevens sought out the ineffable and spiritual in human existence in his search for the sublime.


Paul Mariani is the University Professor of English Emeritus at Boston College. He was formerly Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught from 1968 until 2000. Mariani is the author of seven poetry collections and numerous books of prose, including Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius and God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable, as well as biographies of Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, William Carlos Williams, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Wallace Stevens. His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009 he received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry.