Wallace Stevens was a complex man who wrote complex poetry—and many criticize the man and the poetry as cold and intellectual. From my 1984 masters theses until today, I have found heart and passion and music in Stevens work. Paul Mariani’s biography does a good job of revealing the same in the man and his work.
Yes, Stevens was often boorish, hard to get to know, and sometimes expressed racist and bigoted opinions. Mariani does not shrink from showing that part of the man. But we also see Stevens “at play” in the warmth of the Florida Keys as well as in his poetry.
The analysis and discussion of the poetry is good enough for a biography, allowing for the man to explain the poetry and the poetry to explain the man to some degree. Mariani concludes that Stevens “is among the most important poets of the twentieth and still-young twenty-first century,” placing him with Rilke, Yeats, and Neruda. I would agree in terms of the 20th century while adding three women to the list: Wislawa Symborska, Marianne Moore, and E;Elizabeth Bishop—and I would leave out judgement on the current century except that Steven’s influence certainly has grown wit time.
This is a good biography for both the experienced reader of Stevens and someone wanting to begin to live a bit with the music of Crispin and his poetic islands and cold snow.