- Late Stevens: The Final Fiction
Late Stevens: The Final Fiction follows Leggett's 1987 Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory and his 1992 Early Stevens: The Nietzschean Intertext. As in Early Stevens, Leggett pursues a reading that examines the ways in which intertexts can alter our sense of the significance of a body of poems. In "The Auroras of Autumn" Wallace Stevens considers the possibility of "an imagination that sits enthroned / As grim as it is benevolent, the just / And the unjust, which in the midst of summer stops / To imagine winter." Leggett argues in Late Stevens for the presence of this fiction of a cosmic imagination as the "master intertext" in the poems of The Rock and the uncollected poems published in Opus Posthumous.
Leggett's reading of "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour" can be taken as emblematic of his argument that the late poetry embodies Stevens's fiction of "a fusion of the idea of God and the idea of the imagination" (5). Leggett glosses Stevens's line that "We say God and the imagination are one" not as a glorification of the human imagination, but as meaning, literally, that God is imagination, as in the "Adagia" where Stevens writes: "Proposita: 1. God and the imagination are one. 2. The thing imagined is the imaginer. The second equals the thing imagined and the imaginer are one. Hence, I suppose, the imaginer is God." From this point of view the "world imagined" of the third line of the poem does not refer to the world of the speaker's imagination; rather, the speaker is contained within a world conceived of as the imagination of a "central mind." As Leggett points out, this undermines many of the assumptions found in the existing criticism about the identity of the "Interior Paramour" of the title: it is neither feminine nor does it reside within the poet. For Leggett, it is the "speaker's interiority that is made emphatic throughout the poem, and it is the speaker who takes comfort in the thought that he is the paramour, the recipient of 'a warmth, / A light, a power, the miraculous influence' of 'that which arranged the rendezvous'" (54). Leggett argues throughout the book for the presence of this supreme fiction as a guiding thread uniting the late poems.
In addition to examining the pervasiveness of this motif, Leggett also considers the extent to which Stevens's poetry can be read as having absorbed the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Leggett notes that while Stevens and Schopenhauer [End Page 1270] share a view of life that oscillates between desire and ennui, Stevens understands this cycle as a source of pleasure and that consequently many of the late poems may be read "as refutations of the inference Schopenhauer draws from his system" (33). The more significant relation that emerges from treating Schopenhauer as an intertext involves the way in which the two worlds of The Rock are homologous to Schopenhauer's worlds of will and representation. While the overlap is not precise, Leggett writes that they "agree in the most fundamental aspect—what Schopenhauer calls the world as "macranthropos," the human as the pattern of the external world as a whole" (31–32). Applied to a poem such as "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself," this intertext produces a reading where the last sentence of the poem ("It was like / A new knowledge of reality") does not contradict its title. "In Schopenhauerean terms," Leggett writes, "the poem's motive is to establish the priority of the thing-in-itself, to suggest that the world of the bird's cry is a representation of a cosmic will" (35). Combining the two intertexts allows us to see the poem as "Stevens' final version of the final fiction, a supreme imagination that awakens at the end of winter to imagine spring" (21).
Leggett devotes an entire chapter to Stevens's "To An Old Philosopher in Rome." Drawing on Edmund Wilson's 1946 New Yorker article "Santayana at the Convent of the Blue Nuns," as well as on...