THE MICHIGAN DAILY SUNDAY MAGAZINE
February 13, 1977
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(Continued from Page 4)
the Fig" is evidence of Warren's
ability with off-beat metaphysi-
Where purples now the fig,
Its inmost flesh, a
leaf hangs a
Down, and on it, gull-
As chalk, show, for the
Burned all white, for the
sun, it would
Burn our bones to
Them covered, oh flesh,
Integument, oh frail,
And leave me thus exposed,
Warren has not lost any of
his fascination with wry sorrow,
impending horror, or angry in-
capacity, but half a century of
writing poetry has certainly re-
fined his craft.
WHILE WARREN'S Selected
Poetry is suitable for nov-
ices, Holly Stevens' Souvenirs
and Prophecies will be acces-
sible largely to Wallace Stevens'
fans and students. The famous
Stevens penchant for privacy is
apparently genetic, as H o 11 y
limits her observations to timid
suggestions about possible con-
nections between experiences
recorded in her father's adoles-
cent journals and his later
poems. This is not satisfying
biography, even literary biog-
raphy. Perhaps she worked too
hard at being detached.
Worse, someone-either Wal-
lace or his wife Elsie-has gone
through and dropped out great
hunks of the journals, perhaps
as much as half of them. It
couldn't be a literary judge.
ment, since the greatest portion
of what is left is composed of
wretched verse, menus, mushy
nature observation, -itineraries,
and sophomoric literary theories
he would later repudiate. Even
his letters survive mostly in the
expurgated synopses that Elsie
makes. While there may be
enough material here for tex-
tual- comparisons with Wallace's
poems, he hardly emerges as
the sort of person who could be
known. The experience is as
frustrating as eavesdropping on
half a mundane conversation.
Perhaps the most significant
parts of the book are Wallace's
appreciations of his near-con-
temporaries George Santayana
(as a poet) and Stephen Crane.
He feels sympathy and admira-
tion for them both, and, for the
most part, they emerge more
vividly than he does. This Is es-
pecially unflattering since the
observations on Crane were in-
spired by Crane's funeral. Wal-
lace does emerge as a person-
ality in his correspondence with
his father, and in his diary of
a camping trip in the Canadian
Rockies (presumably he was
too disoriented then to success-
fully censor himself). In the
main, Wallace seems candid but
not forthcoming in his journals
and letters, as he does in his
* If anything relieves Wallace'
of his two - dimensional sell-
evaluation it is a certain anec-
dote about his day's as a stu-
dent at Harvard, in which a
college friend recalls a rather
rowdy encounter between the
poet and one of the waitresses
in a local restaurant. Although
the i n c i d e n t was innocent
enough, a report of it by an in-
dignant witness led college au-
thorities to expel'Stevens.
It is heartening to know that
Wallace at least committed his
share of undergradaute non-
sense before buttoning himself
into three serious careers, a
very responsible family life,
and l a c o n i c prominence in
A m e r i c a n letters. Knowing
about the tavern episode makes
it possible to uncover charming
bits of sardonic and self-effac-
ing humor in his poetry.
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