Wallace Stevens began writing poetry seriously around 1913 and had accumulated enough to publish his first volume, Harmonium, in 1923, followed by an expanded edition in 1931. During this formative time artists of all kinds were embracing new subjects such as the modern urban landscape, the depths of the unconscious, or “primitive” art objects. Avant-garde writers, artists, composers, and choreographers were experimenting widely and radically with form and style, breaking all the rules of outward decorum that were still considered the norm. Painters swapped visual beauty for jagged shapes or abandoned figurative painting for abstraction; composers burst beyond harmony into dissonance or devised new tonal systems and free forms; and poets abandoned regular stanza form for the expressive irregularities and freedom of “free verse.” A curious and cultivated man, Stevens was and would remain attuned to such developments. Contrary to many of his contemporary poets, such as William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, however, and contrary to his trailblazing predecessor, Walt Whitman, Stevens earned his linguistic and poetic freedom within a certain formal discipline.
Although Stevens said he was “for” free verse, in his own practice he favored shapes that were visually regular: overall structures arranged into a series of couplets, quatrains, or - as he would reconfirm in many of his later poems - tercets. It is only in Harmonium that he would experiment with varying the number of lines in stanzas. This he does in “Infanta Marina,” for instance, where the expansion of the Infanta’s thought is represented or enacted in the increase in the number of lines from two in the first stanza to six in the fourth. The middle stanza of “Domination of Black” also experiments with a self-reflexive expansion of the stanza, as five successive lines begin with anaphoric “Turning” or “Turned” (7).