Joseph N. Riddel

Joseph N. Riddel: On "The Death of a Soldier"

"The Death of a Soldier" offers a succinct example of the early powers, not at all those of a detached observer of violence, but rather of one engaged totally with a world in which violence, like change, is the given.

[Riddel quotes the entire poem]

There is nothing else in the series to equal it, nothing else so artistically precise: the marmoreal tone, the carefully chiseled rhythm which falls with controlled dignity through each triplet, and the pertinent imagery of natural as opposed to sacramental death, unaccompanied by ceremony or apotheosis, something as constant and continuous as the mysteriously driven clouds. This is not only Stevens in the sureness of his mature style, but in the true mood of Harmonium, where death is an absolute and all the poet's joys and sorrows come from that revelation. As a poet of death-in-life, Stevens is ever the poet of his favorite theme: poetry-in-life.

From The Clairvoyant Eye: The Poetry and Poetics of Wallace Stevens. Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1965.