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From the Archives: Wallace Stevens

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. LXIX, No. 3 (1900)

“Wallace Stevens’ idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery have been blamed and praised ever since his first poems appeared in print,” writes Helen Vendler in On Extended Wings. Stevens studied as a special three-year student at Harvard from 1897 to 1900. He contributed poems to the Harvard Monthly and The Harvard Advocate (in his own name as well as under the pseudonym of R. Jeffries, according to biographer George Lensing), and was elected president of the Advocate in his final year. His poetry would not be published again until 1914.

Stevens’ first book of poetry, Harmonium, was published when he was forty-four; scholars tend to agree that he completed his greatest works relatively late in his career. But Stevens’ three years at 54 Garden Street in Cambridge, Mass. were the setting for his self-conscious cultivation of an artistic identity. His interactions with Harvard professor, philosopher, and poet George Santayana; his membership in the Signet Society, an undergraduate arts and letters society; and his participation in various publications helped to initially shape his poetic consciousness. The tension between reality and the ideal, for example—a theme that would prove central to Stevens’ poetry—is already present in the pieces reproduced here. Encouraged by his father, Stevens would leave Harvard for law instead of art; but these relics prove that as a young man he was already a poet and, perhaps more significantly, thought of himself as one.

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. LXVI, No. 10 (March 13, 1899)

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. LXIX, No. 1 (March 10, 1900)

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. LXIX, No. 5 (May 10, 1900)