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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: March 2008

3 - Wallace Stevens



In between his time at Harvard (1897–1900), when he published frequently in undergraduate magazines, and his move to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1916, when he was beginning to appear with regularity in the newly emerging little magazines of avant-garde writing, Wallace Stevens led a double life in New York City, with the lion's share of his waking hours spent trying (and failing) to earn a wage good enough to enable him to resume the comfortable upper-middle-class style he had been accustomed to in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he grew up, and in Cambridge, where he was supported by his father's faithful checks. In the late hours of evening during his New York years he read and occasionally wrote verses. On weekends he became the part-time exemplar of Teddy Roosevelt's ideal of the “strenuous life,” taking marathon walks in the country of twenty to thirty miles.

While his son was still at Harvard, Garrett Stevens – successful lawyer, small businessman, and poet himself – had sent Wallace this letter, which haunted the younger Stevens for the rest of his life:

Our young folk would of course prefer to be born like English noblemen with Entailed estates, income guaranteed and in choosing a profession they would simply say – “How shall I amuse myself” – but young America understands that the question is – “Starting with nothing, how shall I sustain myself and perhaps a wife and family – and send my boys to College and live comfortably in my old age.” Young fellows must all come to that question, for unless they inherit money, marry money, find money, steal money or somebody presents it to them, they must earn it and earning it save it up for the time of need.

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