In “Three Academic Pieces,” written two years after Hiroshima, Wallace Stevens off-handedly lets slip an indictment of Western culture belied by the rapturous sweep of his temporal and geographical excursuses. Arguing that the poet’s desire to “beget” a world sets into motion the contradictory forces that bring it down, Stevens climaxes “yesterday’s” prelude in the Vienna woods with the full orchestration of nuclear violence. The destructive mechanism, appearing to counter the high culture of poetry, painting, and music, is the logical conclusion of the original impulse. Stevens’s patriarchal “begetting” results in an Ovidian and Petrarchan obviation of the woman. The excision almost goes unnoticed as Stevens glides from hunter’s horn to birds’ preludes and then leaps from musical song to the explosion that links poetry to war. What does Stevens intend when he collapses time, regresses to an ancient “yesterday,” and then forecloses all history with the atom bomb? how does the tiny bird song bring on the monstrousness of nuclear violence?


Atom Bomb Witness Testimony Greek Myth Lyric Poetry Contradictory Claim 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    “Three Academic Pieces,” The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (New York: Knopf, 1951), p. 76.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    “Letter to a Young Poet,” Midnight Salvage (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 29.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    “The Garden,” The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, Third Edition, ed. H.M. Margoliouth, revised by Pierre Legouis and E. E. Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 52.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    “Love and Fame, the Petrarchan Career,” Pragmatism’s Freud, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 128.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery Belgion (New York: Pantheon, 1956), p. 8.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    “The Bomb’s Womb and the Genders of War (War Goes on Preventing Women from Becoming the Mothers of Invention),” Gendering War Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woolacott (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 293–94.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Robert J. Lifton and Eric Markussen’s term for the “cast of mind that created and maintains the threat of nuclear weapons” and that defines “the general nature of nuclear entrapment and then seeks insight from a major genocide that has already taken place.” See The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi holocaust and Nuclear Threat (New York: Basic Books, 1990), p. 1.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele, Theory and history of Literature, vol. 46 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 101.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Three collections of essays are vital to a consideration of gender issues as they relate to poetry: Speaking of Gender, ed. Elaine Showalter (New York: Routledge, 1989); Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, ed. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979); and, because it speaks to “the interplay of gender and genre,” Dwelling in Possibility: Women Poets and Critics on Poetry, ed. Yopie Prins and Maeera Shreiber (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997). See also Desire in the Renaissance: Psychoanalysis and Literature, ed. Valeria Finucci and Regina Schwartz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). Other relevant studies are: Ilona Bell, Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Gordon Braden, Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance (New haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999); Sheila Fisher and Janet Halley, Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Texts: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990); Elizabeth Harvey, Ventriloquized Voices: Feminist Theory and English Renaissance Texts (London: Routledge, 1992); Nancy Vickers, “Diana Described: Scattered Woman, Scattered Rhyme,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1981–82): 65–79; and Marguerite Waller, “Academic Tootsie: The Denial of Difference and the Difference it Makes,” Diacritics 7 (1987): 2–20.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 15.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Heidegger and “the jews,” trans. Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts, introduction by David Carroll (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 45.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Postmodernism Across the Ages: Essays for a Postmodernity That Wasn’t Born Yesterday, ed. Bill Readings and Bennet Schaber (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Heidegger and “the jews,” trans. Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 48.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    “holocaust Consciousness in the 1990s: Adrienne Rich’s ‘Then Or Now,’” Women’s Studies 27 (1998): 384.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    “Afterthought,” Notebook (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), p. 263.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Irene Costera Meijer and Beaukje Prins, “How Bodies Come to Matter: An Interview with Judith Butler,” Signs 23.2 (1998): 284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 18.
    A history of the World in 10½ Chapters (London: Picador, 1990), p. 181.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    “Beween Image and Phrase: Progressive history and the ‘Final Solution’ as Dispossession,” Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final Solution, ed. Saul Friedlander (Cambridge: harvard University Press, 1992), p. 184.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    “Round Table Discussion,” Writing and the holocaust, ed. Berel Lang (New York: holmes and Meier, 1988), p. 281.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    Caught by history: holocaust Effects in Contemporary Art, Literature and Theory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 7.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    Robert Alter, “Who is Shylock?,” Commentary 96.1 (July 1993): 30.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Asphodel that Greeny Flower and Other Love Poems, intro. Herbert Leibowitz (New York: New Directions, 1994), p. 19.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    “Pre-empting the holocaust,” The Atlantic Monthly 282.5 (November 1998): 105. This essay forms part of the first chapter of Langer’s book, Preempting the holocaust (New haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 1–22.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    Even as he disputes Theodor Adorno’s dictum and therefore necessarily contests Langer, Daniel R. Schwarz writes: “after Auschwitz it is barbaric not to write poetry.” Imagining the holocaust (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999), p. 22.Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    “Cultural Criticism and Society,” Prisms, trans. Samuel and Sherry Weber (London: Neville Spearman, 1967), p. 34.Google Scholar
  26. 28.
    “After Auschwitz,” Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), pp. 362–63.Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    “Lyric Poetry and Society,” The Adorno Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), p. 215.Google Scholar
  28. 30.
    Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the heavens Not Darken? (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), p. 17.Google Scholar
  29. 31.
    “How to Read The Merchant of Venice Without Being hererosexist,” Alternative Shakespeares 2 (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 139.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    “Vital Signs: Petrarch and Popular Culture,” Romanic Review 77 (1988): 187.Google Scholar
  31. 35.
    The handbook of heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow, collected by Robert Pinsky (New York: Morrow, 1998), p. xiii.Google Scholar
  32. 36.
    Judith Butler’s summation of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s argument in “Against Proper Objects: Introduction,” differences, 6.2 and 3 (1994): 18.Google Scholar
  33. 37.
    Excitable Speech (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 138.Google Scholar
  34. 38.
    “this is the oppressor’s language / yet I need it to talk to you”: Language a Place of Struggle,” Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts, ed. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), p. 295.Google Scholar
  35. 39.
    “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” Collected Early Poems: 1950–1970 (New York: Norton, 1993), p. 364.Google Scholar
  36. 40.
    The Dream of A Common Language (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 34.Google Scholar
  37. 41.
    The Tempest, ed. Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan, The Arden Shakespeare, third series (London: Thomas Nelson, 1999), p. 254.Google Scholar
  38. 42.
    Most notably, Angus Cleghorn, Wallace Stevens’s Poetics: The Neglected Rhetoric (New York and Houndsmill, England: Palgrave, 2000); William Doreski, Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors: The Poetics of the Public and the Personal (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999); Alan Filreis, Wallace Stevens and the Actual World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); John Gery, Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary American Poetry: Ways of Nothingness (Gainesville: Florida University Press, 1996); Andrew Lakritz, Modernism and the Other in Stevens, Frost and Moore (Gainseville: Florida University Press, 1996); James Longenbach, Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Kevin Stein, Private Poets, Worldly Acts: Public and Private history in Contemporary American Poetry (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  39. 45.
    “Introduction: Thinkability,” Einstein’s Monsters (London: Vintage, 1999), p. 17.Google Scholar
  40. 46.
    Melissa Zeiger’s term. Beyond Consolation: Death, Sexuality, and the Changing Shapes of Elegy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 166.Google Scholar
  41. 47.
    Modernism and the Other in Stevens, Frost and Moore (Gainseville: Florida University Press, 1996), p. 20. Unlike Lakritz, Alan Filreis locates Stevens’s postwar sensibilities in questions of practical, rather than theoretical, issues. Filreis is much more concerned with situating Stevens in the day-to-day political, rather than, as I am, with the connections between postwar nuclear buildup and prewar nationalism. The postwar poems become, in his reading, inquisitions not about what lead to the war but about how the country should work toward the rebuilding of Europe. The poems embed “Stevens assessment of the effort made by European generations to renew their world in an effort to contain the growing Russian power.” Wallace Stevens and the Actual World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 213. In that regard, Filreis is specific about his praise for Stevens’s involvement in the world, as Marjorie Perloff is in her criticism of Stevens’s indifference to particular events in her “Revolving in Crystal: The Supreme Fiction and the Impasse of Modernist Lyric,” Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism, ed. Albert Gelpi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 41–64.Google Scholar
  42. 48.
    What is It Then Between Us?: Traditions of Love in American Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 185.Google Scholar
  43. 49.
    John Gery’s Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary American Poetry: Ways of Nothingness (Gainesville: Florida University Press, 1996) confronts more directly than any other work the problems I take up here to argue that, in the face of “an era in danger of initiating its own annihilation (p. 1) … poetry is a pertinent voice in the discourse of survival” (p. 4). In a similar vein to Gery, George Monteiro writes of the history of how “poets reacted to the bomb,” citing Robert Frost, Daniel Hoffman, Richard Wilbur, Paul Roche, and Olga Cabral. See “Poets and the Bomb,” War, Literature and the Arts 11.1 (1999): 152, 162.Google Scholar
  44. 50.
    Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 109–110.Google Scholar
  45. 51.
    Jonathan Monroe, “Poetry, the University and the Culture of Distraction,” Diacritics 26.3 and 4 (1996): 4. For a summary of the arguments against Adrienne Rich’s recent work precisely because “the intrusion of Rich’s political concerns has spoiled and betrayed her artistic gift,” refer to Peter Erickson’s defense of Rich in “Singing America: From Walt Whitman to Adrienne Rich,” Kenyon Review, n.s. 17.1 (1995): 114. If Rich is considered too political, Lowell is currently marginalized because he is too poetical. See Steven Gould Axelrod’s introduction to The Critical Response to Robert Lowell (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999), p.18.Google Scholar
  46. 53.
    “Lyric Resistance: Views of the Political in the Poetics of Wallace Stevens and H.D.,” Wallace Stevens Journal 13. 2 (1989): 195. On the question of Stevens’s less theoretical political engagement, John Timberman Newcomb, for example, writes that “a dismissal of Stevens as apolitical or reactionary ignores his development of an intellectual basis for collective social responsibility through the critique and rejection of authoritarian modes of thought” See “Life Anywhere But on a Battleship: Stevens’s Wartime Poetry and the Apolitics of Postwar Criticism,” Criticism, XXXII, no. 1 (1990): 103. Of particular interest as well is his dismissal of Marjorie Perloff’s “exposé of Stevens’s ostensible fascist unconscious [in her “Revolving in Crystal: The Supreme Fiction and the Impasse of Modernist Lyric,” Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism, ed. Albert Gelpi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 41–64]. But, like Filreis and Perloff, Newcomb is more immediate and specific in his assessment of Stevens’s wartime poetry, particularly in his analysis of “Life on a Battleship,” a poem which first appeared in The Partisan Review in 1939. Arguing against such specific “event-related” readings, Steven Miskinis (“Exceeding Responsibilities, Politics, history, and the hero in Wallace Stevens’s War Poetry,” The Wallace Stevens Journal 20.2 [1996]: 209) nevertheless takes issue with Jacqueline Vaught Brogan’s carefully balanced essay, “Stevens in history and Not in history: The Poet and the Second World War,” The Wallace Stevens Journal 13.2 (1989): 168–90. Brogan maintains that “a critical change in Stevens’s aesthetics … occurred during World War II from that of a relatively private poet to one with a public voice and conscience,” 185. Brogan expands that point when she writes in a recent article that, toward the end of his life, Stevens was genuinely concerned with the issue of “how to dismantle an abusive structure of power (whether Marxist, imperialist, religious, racist, sexist) without merely inverting the structure and keeping the abusive structure in place.” See “Wrestling with Those ‘Rotted Names’: Wallace Stevens’s and Adrienne Rich’s ‘Revolutionary Poetics,’” 33. In a similar vein, Angus Cleghorn argues against the traditional split in poetic criticism between those who read Wallace Stevens formally (Pearce, Riddel, Vendler, and Bloom) and those who read him polemically (Longenbach and Filreis). In Wallace Stevens’s Poetics: The Neglected Rhetoric, he maintains that Stevens believed that “clever wordsmiths carried influence” (p.1) and that the influence has a rhetorical thrust, particularly in the way poems like “Owl’s Clover” take issue with what Cleghorn calls a “monumental aesthetics” which “serves only the rigid program of its creators” (p. 86). Cleghorn charts Stevens’s development as a “rhetorical force that writes history” (p. 190).Google Scholar
  47. 54.
    “Against Proper Objects,” Introduction, differences 6. 2 and 3 (1994): 20.Google Scholar
  48. 55.
    “Courtly Love as Anamorphosis,” The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959–60: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter (London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1991), p. 140.Google Scholar
  49. 56.
    “The Poetics of Discovery: A Reading of Donne’s ‘Elegy 19,’” Yale Journal of Criticism 2 (1989): 133.Google Scholar
  50. 57.
    Ferdydurke, trans. Danuta Borchardt (New haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 72.Google Scholar
  51. 58.
    “The Bride Stripped Bare, by Richard Hamilton, even,” Tate: Modern Special Issue 21 (2000): 59.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Barbara L. Estrin 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara L. Estrin
    • 1
  1. 1.Stonehill CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations