How to read American poets of the 20 century

What is the American poetry of XX century and is it possible to speak of a single tradition? Tell, taking as paradigmatic samples of the poems of Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Robert frost and Sylvia Plath.

American poetry is huge, and the list of outstanding poets of the XX century cannot be limited to nor four, nor ten, nor twenty names. The poem, about which speech will go, is a personal choice of the compiler. However, for Americans, they are quite an “iconic” (other, less paradigmatic variants can be found in the section “Alternatives”). Speaking of American poetry, it is important to define what a national tradition. If her Thomas Stearns Eliot, who is an American was an Englishman, or Wystan Hugh Auden, selected reverse metamorphosis? How to answer the question, is there a common American tradition, which applies equally Marianne Moore and Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Sexton, Maya Angelou and John Ashbury? So we will talk about the classic, recognizable and short texts.

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Wallace Stevens was born in 1879. He studied at Harvard University (preserved written a detailed plan of the construction of a fence around the local campus, with a scrupulous enumeration of all the advantages of such an enterprise) and the new York law school, he worked in law and insurance offices. In one of them, located in the capital city of Connecticut Hartford, he was promoted to Vice President — and refused to leave his post when he was offered a chair at Harvard. Political views he was a conservative.

And behind that boring facade hiding one of the most splendid poetic fantasies of the twentieth century. However, with the exception of poems and essays, she rarely breaks out: perhaps the most striking episodes in the life of Stevens — quarrel with Robert frost and brawl with Hemingway (Stevens attacked first, broke in Hemingway’s hand and was lowered down the stairs). But in verse Stevens was a kind of Walter Mitty his first book “Harmonium” has caused confusion and enthusiasm of the critics pointed out that the poet “climbs out of the skin, but would not sound like anyone else from writing to it”.

Books Stevens baffle some titles: “the Emperor of ice cream”, “Mouse dance Mordecai”, “the Worms at heaven’s gate”, “People with weak vocal cords”, “Desire to indulge in love in the pagoda” — all this brings to mind the Russian futurists with their “Dead moon” and “Sasahara Kry”, which came out around the same time, when Stevens made his debut in print. However, here it was not shocking: Stevens definitely belongs among the modernists, it was an essential pleasure which gives you the unusual combination of images, the invention of stories as if plucked from a vast supernatural epic (this technique a hundred years later, will enjoy Russian “new epic”). Stevens believed the imagination, the highest and most noble value of the poet. The ability to create worlds, new releases, and narratives of the poet, who perceives his art, allows not to depend on the dictates of the old Grand narrative. Poetry for him is the search for the necessary, life-supporting, and not the existence; he even suggested that as a Supreme Fiction, “the Supreme Fiction”, poetry can replace religion. The ability to do so with poetic language gave him a sense of superiority — as in the demiurgic “anecdote of the jar” in the above “Invective against swans”. Stevens was an independent thinker, but his transition from reality to fantasy, shift the focus to their own way of seeing is often compared with the phenomenological reduction Husserl

About the poem

This is the second poem from his debut collection, “Harmonium”, released in 1923 when Stevens was already 43 years. As if for no reason it denounces flying swans, calling them geese (Grigory Kruzhkov translation chose a good contemptuous word “gender”). Their mission is opposed to the flight of the soul, which is able to be gone a lot further. The sun is on the wane, dying; the majestic statues have blackened crow — picture for swans bleak, but for someone who accuses them, somehow encouraging.

Despite the presence in the text “genders” and crow droppings, the style of the poem is elevated and old-fashioned. However, this grandiloquence ironic. So, the word refers to the Paphian Paphos — birthplace of Aphrodite. In the Greco-Roman tradition, the Swan was associated with Aphrodite or Venus. Some of the ancient images of Aphrodite is depicted riding on a Swan or ruling chariot drawn by swans (think “icy chariot” at the end of the poem). In conjunction with these “cartoons”, the word Paphian reducing the value becomes “erotic, obscene”. Finally, if the Greek word “pathos” (Πάφος) Phi (φ) is replaced by theta (θ), we get “pathos” — that most sublime speaking, which is a parody of Stevens.

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Most interpreters “Invective” agree that Stevens is not attacked by the swans, and the allegory of the hills used the old, Victorian poets. This is not the only case when Stevens is smashing old rhetoric, using natural images. In the poem “the way of the conversation with the clouds,” he quite openly reported that under the clouds are referring to a philosophical question. Gregory Circles in an article about Stevens recalls other exalted swans poetic tradition of Horace, mallarmé, Yates. Looking at them, Stevens says that “the symbolism is gone, his “curly will.” Over time the poetic schools, the time has come individuals. Swans fly away. They are replaced by crows, the contamination with their droppings monuments of the past.”

To understand the “Invective” it’s worth remembering one of the favorite images of Stevens, who dedicated his essay “the Noble charioteer and the sound of words”: an allegory of the soul from Plato’s dialogue “Phaedrus”. Plato likens the soul “is connected to the power cruise of the steam rides and the charioteer”, one of the horses — the divine origin and seeks up; the second is the earthly origin, and it pulls to the ground. The instability of this image, in the end, undermines faith in him, however, the steam team soul still reaches those places where there is no access “froze chariots” of swans.

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