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Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode

Malcolm Woodland

Publication Year: 2005

Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode focuses on Stevens’s doubled stance toward the apocalyptic past: his simultaneous use of and resistance to apocalyptic language, two contradictory forces that have generated two dominant and incompatible interpretations of his work. The book explores the often paradoxical roles of apocalyptic and antiapocalyptic rhetoric in modernist and postmodernist poetry and theory, particularly as these emerge in the poetry of Stevens and Jorie Graham.

This study begins with an examination of the textual and generic issues surrounding apocalypse, culminating in the idea of apocalyptic language as a form of “discursive mastery” over the mayhem of events. Woodland provides an informative religious/historical discussion of apocalypse and, engaging with such critics as Parker, Derrida, and Fowler, sets forth the paradoxes and complexities that eventually challenge any clear dualities between apocalyptic and antiapocalyptic thinking.

Woodland then examines some of Stevens’s wartime essays and poems and describes Stevens’s efforts to salvage a sense of self and poetic vitality in a time of war, as well as his resistance to the possibility of cultural collapse. Woodland discusses the major postwar poems “Credences of Summer” and “The Auroras of Autumn” in separate chapters, examining the interaction of (anti)apocalyptic modes with, respectively, pastoral and elegy.

The final chapter offers a perspective on Stevens’s place in literary history by examining the work of a contemporary poet, Jorie Graham, whose poetry quotes from Stevens’s oeuvre and shows other marks of his influence. Woodland focuses on Graham's 1997 collection The Errancy and shows that her antiapocalyptic poetry involves a very different attitude toward the possibility of a radical break with a particular cultural or aesthetic stance.

Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode, offering a new understanding of Stevens’s position in literary history, will greatly interest literary scholars and students.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Thanks are due to Eleanor Cook, whose support and encouragement from the early stages of this project have been invaluable. I owe a similar debt of gratitude to John Reibetanz and Linda Munk. I would also like to thank Professors Linda Hutcheon and Marlene...

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pp. xi-xvii

Why has it been possible to read Stevens as both an apocalyptic and an antiapocalyptic poet? Why has it been possible to read Stevens as both a (belated) romantic/modernist and as a poststructuralist/ postmodernist? These two questions, I hope to show, are intimately related. To take a stance toward apocalyptic discourse...


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p. xix

Part I: Stevens and the End of War

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Chapter 1: Past Apocalypse

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pp. 3-25

It seems reasonable enough, given my subject, to begin with the End, or at least with Wallace Stevens’s attitudes toward the End. Quoted below are three passages that provide some sense of the specific lexical meanings Stevens attached to the words “apocalypse” and...

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Chapter 2: An Ever-Enlarging Inchoherence

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pp. 26-68

Stevens’s responses to the war in his poetry, essays, and letters bear witness to a remarkable complex of anxieties: anxieties about the near-apocalyptic scale of physical destruction; anxieties about the concomitant emergence of a new cultural and imaginative dispensation, one that...

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Chapter 3: What Could Not Be Shaken

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pp. 69-99

It should come as no surprise that Stevens’s concern with apocalyptic interpretations of the war and with the possibility that the war might produce a “radical break” with(in) literary and cultural history also marks the poetry written shortly before and after “The Noble Rider and the Sound...

Part II: Stevens and the Genres of the End

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Chapter 4: The Refuge That the End Creates

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pp. 103-133

Given the relationship outlined thus far between Stevens’s resistance to apocalyptic rhetoric and the fears aroused by World War II, one might expect the poems that emerged after the war to be relieved of the apocalyptic burden. Yet this is not the case, at least not in “Credences of Summer”...

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Chapter 5: Mournful Making

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pp. 134-166

Critics have commonly, and understandably, treated “Credences of Summer” and “The Auroras of Autumn” as contrastive companion pieces, a reading best encapsulated in Vendler’s sense of the “energy of repudiation” (Vendler, Extended 248) directed by the later poem against the earlier. But there may be a commonality...

Part III: Going after Apocalypse

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Chapter 6: Past Apocalypse, Past Stevens

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pp. 169-205

My readings of modern and postmodern stances toward apocalypse would be incomplete without some effort to test them in the work of at least one more recent poet. Jorie Graham’s oeuvre provides a particularly appropriate laboratory for such an experiment, even though her differences from Stevens, as this chapter shall demonstrate...

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pp. 206-217

I want to begin my conclusion by quoting from a response to an earlier article of my own—“Wallace Stevens’ ‘Puella Parvula’ and the ‘Haunt of Prophecy’”—that appeared in the Wallace Stevens Journal special issue entitled Approaching the Millennium: Stevens and Apocalyptic Language (23, no. 2, fall 1999). In his “Afterword: Last Words...


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pp. 219-231


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pp. 233-248


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pp. 249-256

E-ISBN-13: 9781587296024
E-ISBN-10: 1587296020
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459286
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459282

Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: cloth

OCLC Number: 85790213
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Stevens, Wallace, -- 1879-1955 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Stevens, Wallace, 1879-1955 -- Knowledge -- History.
  • War in literature.
  • Apocalyptic literature -- History and criticism.
  • End of the world in literature.
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