Joan Richardson: On "Sea Surface Full of Clouds"

After the publication of Harmonium on September 7 [1923], but wisely before the first reviews, Stevens left with Elsie on the only extended holiday they had taken since their marriage fourteen years before. On October 18 they sailed on a beautiful sea-keen ship, appropriately named – for one who loved puns – the Kroonland. "Paradisal green / Gave suavity to the perplexed machine / Of ocean" and to Stevens for these two weeks, that began a two-month suspension from the cares of the everyday world.

After this, things would never be the same. As Stevens commemorated in "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," a poem that has been celebrated as the most perfect example of a "pure poem" (John Crowe Ransom also noted, without knowing the poem’s occasion, that to contemplate it was to become happy), "In that November off Tehuantepec" their only child was conceived. Spooning and crooning one night when the "slopping of the sea grew still," Wallace and Elsie, like "the sea / And heaven rolled as one from the two / Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue" in the eyes of the girl they named Holly nine months later. Out of this voyage into nothingness came a new beginning. …"

From Joan Richardson, Wallace Stevens, A Biography: The Later Years. 1923-1955 (New York: William Morrow, 1988), 22.


Title Joan Richardson: On "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Joan Richardson Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Nov 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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