Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on July 25, 2016
 This book throws much needed light on what Stevens is up to in his poetry! I am intrigued by his declared desire to make a poetry that can do the work of religion, theology, and metaphysics.  I more or less agree with his diagnosis of the problem of religious LITERALISM, but think his prescription inadequate.  He seeks to supplant religious tradition; a more humble and sophisticated project would be to translate or transpose traditional myth, metaphor, symbol, and analogy into a different key!  What would we think of HIS poems if we read them with the same lack of Imagination and sophistication with which he approaches biblical texts and theological discourse?  His AN ORDINARY EVENING IN NEW HAVEN, XVIII:  “say good-bye to the past … live in the present… paint in the present … not the state of thirty years ago.” Tantamount to saying:  Cezanne and Klee are great; therefore, Vermeer, Bruegel, and Constable are no longer viable models.  He has many thought-provoking passages, and enriching allusions to artifacts of high culture.  But his drive toward a “Necessary Illusion” ["Illusion"=?] is littered with unnecessary incoherences and self-contradictions.

His poem LES PLUS BELLES PAGES:  “Aquinas spoke of God. I changed the word to man.”   What does Stevens mean by "God"? How pedestrian, ethnocentric, and ignorant of the relevant disciplines can one be?  For all his sophistication, he seems as ignorant of what he rejects as are the pop atheists like Richard Dawkins whose scientistic materialism is as fundamentalistic as are the religious fundamentalists in their literalism. ’

His poem SUNDAY MORNING:  When earth is all the paradise we shall know, “The sky will be much friendlier then than now.”  This is perhaps a misreading of Dante, etc. or a relativist rejection of objective moral judgments—in which case a swift kick to his shins will unmask him, in another of his brazen self-contradictions.  Some of his passages seem to degenerate into something like psychiatric “word-salad."

What to make of the fact that, by some accounts Stevens died a baptized Roman Catholic? He said the God he worshiped In St. Patrick's Cathedral was not the God he met in a walk in the woods. Why not? Countless popular hymns bridge the gap quite nicely.
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