Roger D. Jones
English 2360, American Lit Since 1865
Spring 2000
Wallace Stevens Handout

Wallace Stevens on the Imagination, etc.

"The mind of the poet describes itself as constantly in his poems as the mind of the sculptor describes itself in his forms. . .We are talking about something a good deal more comprehensive than the temperament of the artist as that is usually spoken of. We are concerned with the whole personality. . . ."

". . .much of the world of fact is the equivalent of the world of the imagination because it looks like it. Here we are on the border of the question of the relationship between the imagination and memory, which we avoid. It is important to believe that the visible is the equivalent of the invisible."

". . .the best definition of true imagination is that it is the sum of our faculties. Poetry is the scholar's art. The acute intelligence of the imagination, the illimitable resources of its memory, its power topesses the moment it perceives -- if we were speaking of light itself, and thinking of the relationship between objects and light, no further demonstration would be necessary. . .What light requires a day to do, and by day I mean a kinf of Biblical revolution of time, the imagination does in the twinkling of an eye. It colors, increases, brings to a beginning and end, invents languages, crushes men, and, for that matter, gods in its hands, it says to women more than it is possible to say, it rescues all of us from what we have called absolute fact.. . "

". . .for the poet, the imagination is paramount, and . . . he dwells apart in his imagination, as the philosopher dwells in his reason, and as the priest dwells in his belief . . . ."

"The imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things."

"We live in the mind. . .[and] if we live in the mind, we live with the imagination."

"the operation of the imagination in life is more significant than its operation in or in relation to works of art or perhaps I should have said, from the beginning, in arts and letters; second, that the imagination penetrates life; and finally, that its value as metaphysics is not the same as its value in arts and letters. . .in life what is important is the truth as it is, while in arts and letters what is important is truth as we see it."

"What the poet has in mind. . .is that poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of imagination. The poet tries to exemplify it, in part as I have tried to exemplify it here, by identifying it with an imaginative activity that diffuses itself throughout our lives."

"My final point then is that the imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos."

"The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them. If this is true, then reason is simply the methodizer of the imagination."

"It would come nearer the mark to say the greater the mind the greater the poet, because the evil of thinking as poetry is not the same thing as the good of thinking in poetry. The point it that the poet does his job by virtue of an effort of the mind. . .In doing so, he is in rapport with the painter, who does his job, in respect to the problems of form and color, which confront him incessantly, not by inspiration, but by imagination or by the miraculous kind of reason that the imagination sometimes promotes. In short, these two arts, poetry and painting, have in common a laborious element. . . ."

"'It is art,' said Henry James, 'which makes life, makes interest, makes importance. . . and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.' The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us."

"The paramount relation between poetry and painting today, between modern man and modern art, is simply this: that in an age in which disbelief is so profoundly prevalent or, if not disbelief, indifference to questions of belief, poetry and painting, and the arts in general, are, in their measure, a compensation for what has been lost. Men feel that the imagination is the next greatest power to faith: the reigning prince."

"Our own time, and by this I mean the last two or three generations, including our own, can be summed up in a way that brings into unity an immense number of details by saying of it that it is a time in which the search for the supreme truth has been a search in reality or through reality or even a search for some supremely acceptable fiction."


Wallace Stevens on God

"It may be dismissed, on the one hand, as a commonplace aesthetic satisfaction: and, on the other hand, if we say that the idea of God is merely a poetic idea, even if the supreme poetic idea, and that our notions of heaven and hell are merely poetry not so called, even if poetry that involves us vitally, the feeling of deliverance, of a release, of a perfection touched, of a vocation so that all men may know the truth and that the truth may set them free -- if we say these things and if we are able to see the poet who achieved God and placed Him in His seat in heaven in all His glory, the poet himself, still in the ecstasy of the poem that completely accomplished its purpose, would have seemed, whether young or old, whether in rags or ceremonial robe, a man who needed what he had created, uttering the hymns of joy that followed his creation."

"To see the gods dispelled in mid-air and dissolve like clouds is one of the great human experiences. It is not as if they had gone over the horizon to disappear for a time; nor as if they had been overcome by other gods of greater power and profounder knowledge. It is simply that they came to nothing."