Wallace Stevens: Redefining space

Cathleen A Hannigan, Fordham University


In this dissertation, I examine the manner in which Stevens redefines space to depict the mesh of imagination and material reality. After he establishes a scene or setting of external reality, which I term base reality, Stevens immediately redefines that space into something that imaginatively transcends a confining frame. Base reality no longer exists as itself since it is transformed into something greater, which I term intensified reality. In his earlier poems, Stevens strives to balance the imagination and reality as he remains intent on exploring their “universal interdependence” (“The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” 657). At times, base reality prevails, and the reader is left with an empty sense of material reality—a “bare place” that holds “the nothing that is” (“The Snow Man” 1. 12, 15). Conversely, when the imagination is dominant, it casts its shadow too powerfully over base reality. This creates a horrifying scene that can seem debilitating or even suffocating. Stevens manages, however, to strike a balance between these two realms, and he depicts an ideal mesh in which “the imagination adheres to reality” while “reality adheres to the imagination” equally (“The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” 663). With his later poetry, Stevens' focus becomes increasingly abstract and metaphysical. Appealing to the reader's intuitive and emotional faculties, he depicts a new way of redefining space further into the unbound state that I term transcendent reality. To reach this new state of redefined space, Stevens places the “seeming” of things in the foreground of his exploration, while reserving base reality for referential background (“Description Without Place” 1. 2). When he relies on abstract perception as truth, Stevens takes the final step and redefines space into the furthest recess of the mind, aiming for a transcendental realm that exists “on the edge of space” (“Of Mere Being” 1. 10).

Subject Area

Literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Hannigan, Cathleen A, "Wallace Stevens: Redefining space" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3098131.