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Poet'sGods:Stevens' Words, Jeffers'World-as-God ROBERT IAN SCOTT Adalaide Kirby Morris. Wallace Stevens, Imagination and Faith. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974. 205 pp. Robert J. Brophy. Robinson leffers, Myth, Ritual, and Symbol in His Narrative Poems. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University Press. 1973. 321 pp. Two white upper-middle-class conservative male poets raised as Presbyterians in the same language, time, and country could hardly produce less similar poetry than did Wallace Stevens and Robinson Jeffers. Adalaide Kirby Morris of Georgetown University sees Stevens as inventing poetic fictions to replace the Christian God he found no longer believable, while Robert Brophy of the California State University at Long Beach shows how five of Jeffers' narratives use Greek tragedy's plot structure, myths, and seasonal metaphors to celebrate the natural world as God. Stevens seems desperate or arch; Jeffers, calmly in earnest. Morris shows that Stevens used biblical forms - parables, prayers, proverbs, hymns, psalms - to replace his old religion with his own new "chapel of breath," his breath uttering poetic fictions, as if he enjoyed such a faith in his imagination-'s godlike power to create a god, and world. But she needs to ask more questions, rather than leaving many of Stevens' reactions and assumptions untested, and unexplained. Why did Stevens find "reality," whatever that means, intolerable without poetry? Why should his world-view and poems matter to us, except as demonstrating the possibilities of that view and style, and what distinguishes them from Mallarme's, or William Carlos Williams'? And has the world really no order without us? Her comment that "Stevens' poetry is full of narcissists who see into reality as into a mirror" may leave us wondering whether to consider his poetry as satirical, or as in itself narcissistic, the poet writing to himself about himself as the creator of fictional worlds no one else inhabits. In the passage Eliot made a part of his footnote to line 413 of The Waste Land, F. H. Bradley describes such an isolation, in which the self imprisons itselfMy external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings . In either case experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. V, NO, 2 1 FALL 1974 outside ... regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul. - as if each of us reflected all the world around us, each in his own distorted way, as ornamental balls on Christmas trees do, while an observer inside the ball cannot see beyond the ball, his own small and possibly wasted world,. which shows him nothing except perhaps reflections of himself. In her second chapter,. Morris explains why Stevens came to think Christianity "deaf-mute,,.; he thought it rejected life, and doubt (without which we cannot think), and self (which creates the fictions on which Stevens thought we or he must rely as the only source of order and delight , sanction and solace). But did he mean fictions as maps or metaphors by which we understand what we experience of the world, and thus choose what we do, or did he mean fictions not as explanations, but as escapes from the world? Stevens' reasons for writing poetry range from "to formulate his ideas and relate himself to the world" to "to find God." He also said "God is in me or else is not at all (does not exist)'" and that II A poet"s words are of things that do not exist without the words," as if God and the poet"s world depend upon what he says of them. Despite the title of her fourth and final chapter, How to Live, What to Do,.borrowed from one of Stevens" poems, Morris does not show how his poems suggest how to live, or what anyone might do about anything. Nor does she link or compare Stevens' poetry-as-religion with the Imagists' mystically important isolated vivid moments,. or with Plato's assumptions about the reality., goodness, beauty,. and truth of ideas and language compared with the changing world in time we inhabit, which...


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pp. 198-201
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