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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2010

4 - Abstract figures: the curious case of the idealist ‘I’

Summary

TAMING ‘THE GUERRILLA I’: THE EARLY POEMS OF PARTS OF A WORLD (1942)

In 1938 Stevens entered one of the most fecund phases of his writing career. With The Man with the Blue Guitar & Other Poems he reached the end of an experimental period, during which he realized abstraction's potential and the poetic possibilities of a novel first-person speaker. If Stevens had not answered his speaker's question in ‘Blue Guitar’ – ‘Where / Do I begin and end?’ – he was certainly more confident about employing this elusive ‘I’ as a speaker, especially in an abstract space. In the poetry following ‘Blue Guitar’ Stevens would break new ground, attracting fewer comparisons with a dandy or Surrealist aesthetic (apart from in the eyes of Cleanth Brooks and Yvor Winters).

Even Picasso's influence on Stevens waned. In 1938, approving a ‘just placing of Picasso’, Stevens copied down Herbert Furst's summary of ‘Guernica’:

Picasso, unfortunately, has made his name pre-eminently as an intellectualist […] [H]is fame rests entirely on his cool and calculated exploitation of the elements of formal design, with or without psychological associations. Away from Nature! was his slogan. Much of his work […] remained, except as a matter of abstract designing, unintelligible. Nevertheless, there has appeared in his oeuvre abstract form, solidly modelled, that had a grim significance of human emotions […] Picasso is not a painter […] he is an over-intellectual designer who moves one to thought, but not to feeling.

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