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A Force of Nature: Imagination in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery

Powerful Essays
“One function of the poet at any time is to discover by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be poetry at that time” (The necessary vii). What Stevens is suggesting here is that a poet must find a particular voice among other voices –other poets– and that his voice will be significant only if it intends to be a contribution to the theory of poetry, in the sense that they “are disclosures of poetry, not disclosures of definitions of poetry” (Ibid). Precisely, the poetry of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery are disclosures of poetry regarding imagination, for they deal with the capacity of the mind to transform external reality. Both poets take the reader through beautifully pictured strange landscapes and, by allowing the reader to experience, dialogically, what is pictured in the poem; both poets make clear that the reader is a fundamental part of it.
“In Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T.S. Eliot affirms that the greatest writers are those who are conscious of the writers who came before, as if they write with a sense of continuity. T.S Eliot addresses literary tradition as well as poetic tradition, and states that it is important to focus on “significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet” (18). In this sense, the importance of tradition in poetry relies on the fact that a poet must be aware of the achievements of his predecessors, for, as we shall see in the case of Stevens and Ashbery, “the emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless...

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...human imagination and reality, the role of imagination in shaping that reality, and the role of the reader, as an observer as well as participant, in the understanding of poetry, of language shaping the world around him.

Works Cited

ASHBERY, John. “The instruction manual” in poetryfundation. Web. May 24. 2014.
“Biography of Wallace Stevens” in poetryfundation. Web. May 23. 2014.
“Biography of John Ashbery” in poetryfundation. Web. May 24. 2014.
ELIOT, T.S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent” in poetryfundation. Web. May 23. 2014.
PERKINS, David. “On Ashbery’s Predecessors: Stevens, Eliot and Pound” in Modern American
Poetry. Web. May 24. 2014.
WALLACE, Stevens. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. New York:
Random House, 1951. Print.
---. “The Snowman”, “Tattoo” and “The Idea of Order in Key West” in poemhunter. Web. May
23. 2014.
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