October 2

This Day in History

Literary

Oct 2, 1879:

Wallace Stevens is born

On this day in 1879, poet Wallace Stevens is born in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Stevens followed the footsteps of his father, a Reading lawyer and teacher who wrote poetry on the side. Stevens attended Harvard but left after three years. He knew he wanted to devote his life to literature but early on decided not to "make a petty struggle for existence." He worked briefly in journalism, then went to law school in 1904 and practiced law in New York for several years while writing poetry.

In 1914, Poetry magazine published his poetry for the first time. Stevens became friends with other New York poets, including William Carlos Williams (a doctor) and Marianne Moore. In 1916, he joined the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and moved with his wife to Hartford, where he lived for the rest of his life. He worked hard during the day and wrote at night and during vacations. In 1923, he published his first book of poetry, Harmonium. The book was a critical success, though fewer than 100 copies were sold. It contained poems that are still anthologized today, including "Sunday Morning" and "The Emperor of Ice Cream." He didn't publish another book for six years. In the meantime, he prospered at work and became a vice president of the insurance company in 1934.

The following year, he published Ideas of Order, and during the next two decades he published nine more collections. Only in his later years was this quiet man recognized as a major poet. His Collected Poems (1954) won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His work explored the meeting of the real world and the imagination in poetry and art. His writing was elegant, restrained, and funny. Although his poems are calm and disciplined, they celebrate the beauty and intensity of life. Stevens died in 1955 in Hartford, Connecticut.

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