Jacqueline Vaught Brogan: On "Of Modern Poetry"

But in "Of Modern Poetry," written two years before, and later in "Burghers of Petty Death," we find men and women together, more successfully figured as equal representatives of humanity. "Modern Poetry," Stevens says, "has to be living, to learn the speech of the place. / It has to face the men of the time and to meet / The women of the time." In the second poem, written in 1946, Stevens says:

These are the small townsmen of death,

A man and a woman, like two leaves

That keep clinging to a tree,

Before winter freezes and grows black--

This "woman," equal in her humanness to the "man," marks a new moment in Stevens in which "she" is not only validated but recognized both as a presence and as a human being, rather than tracing in either idealized or "monstrous" discourse the path of failed signification and signifiers. If I were to indulge in psychological explanations, I would consider the possibility that the sheer, overwhelming and uncontrollable violence of the Second World War reduced all human beings in Stevens' eyes to the position of "women" in the ironically-realized, metaphorical sense of the word. We are all without power, not just women, in this modern world, unable to control the world and possibly our own lives.

From Wallace Stevens and the Feminine. Ed. Melita Shaum. The University of Alabama Press, 1993.

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Criticism Overview
Title Jacqueline Vaught Brogan: On "Of Modern Poetry" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jacqueline Vaught Brogan Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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