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Palgrave Macmillan

The Poetic Music of Wallace Stevens

  • Book
  • © 2022


  • Reimagines ways of thinking and writing about music and poetry
  • Engages with the study of modern poetry, modernism in the arts, literature and music, and musicology
  • Provides sustained treatment of sound and music in Wallace Stevens’ poetry

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature (PASTMULI)

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Table of contents (7 chapters)


About this book

Wallace Stevens’s musicality is so profound that scholars have only begun to grasp his ties to the art of music or the music of his own poetry. In this study, two long-time specialists present a polyphonic composition in which they pursue various interlocking perspectives. Their case studies demonstrate how music as a temporal art form may affect a poetic of ephemerality, sensuous experience, and affective intensification. Such a poetic, they argue, invites flexible interpretations that respond to poetry as an art of textual performance. How did Stevens enact the relation between music and memory? How can we hear his verse as a form of melody-making? What was specific to his ways of recording birdsong? Have we been missing the latent music of Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Claude Debussy in particular poems? What were the musical poetics he shared with Igor Stravinsky? And how is our experience of the late poetry transformed when we listen to a musical setting by Ned Rorem? The Poetic Music of Wallace Stevens will appeal to experts in the poet’s work, students of Modernism in the arts, and a wider audience fascinated by the dynamics of exchange between music and poetry.


“Almost all talk about musicality in poetry concentrates on specific aural effects. But surely there are possible questions about ways that melody, tone, pacing, and harmonic structure can illuminate the relationship between the two arts. Then there are questions about how a poet engages the ideas of musicians, especially a poet like Wallace Stevens intensely concerned to escape Romantic emotion for Modernism’s hard-edged constructions. This book heroically both engages these questions and shapes possible ways of answering them. I think Bart Eeckhout and Lisa Goldfarb’s The Poetic Music of Wallace Stevens is an instant critical classic because of the depth of its exposition, its loving and often stunning attention to particular Stevens poems, and its combination of careful pedagogical presentation with totally engaging flights of critical imagination liberated by the sharpness of its framing questions.” (Charles Altieri, Stageberg Professor of English, University of California,Berkeley, USA)

“There have been numbers of case studies and theoretical frameworks offered by literary critics and art historians that have enriched the way exchanges between the visual and literary arts are now treated, but until recently there has been far less work done on the relationship between music and poetry. The Poetic Music of Wallace Stevens admirably fills this gap. Erudite, lucid, and nuanced, this volume is not simply six case studies in alternating voices, but a polyphonic rethinking of an undertheorized area of study that offers multiple ways of approaching poetic musicality and of considering exchanges between poetic and musical practices. Although more than one hand was involved in writing The Poetic Music of Wallace Stevens, it seems apt to quote the following lines from Marianne Moore: “To explain grace requires / a curious hand.” Eeckhout’s and Goldfarb’s curiosity is everywhere on display in this book. Their rigorous but open-minded study is a treasure.” (Lisa M. Steinman, Kenan Professor of English and Humanities, Reed College, USA)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Literature, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

    Bart Eeckhout

  • Gallatin School, New York University, New York, USA

    Lisa Goldfarb

About the authors

Bart Eeckhout is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and has been Editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal since 2011. His books include Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing (2002), five co-edited volumes on Stevens, and twelve co-edited thematic issues of The Wallace Stevens Journal. Most recently he co-edited The New Wallace Stevens Studies (2021). Eeckhout is a Member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.

Lisa Goldfarb is Professor at New York University’s Gallatin School, USA, President of The Wallace Stevens Society, and Associate Editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal. She is the author of The Figure Concealed: Wallace Stevens, Music, and Valéryan Echoes (2011) and Unexpected Affinities: Modern American Poetry and Symbolist Poetics (2018), as well as co-editor of several editedcollections on Stevens and special issues of The Wallace Stevens Journal. She has recently contributed a chapter, “Music of the Sea: Elizabeth Bishop and Symbolist Poetics,” to Elizabeth Bishop and the Music of Literature (Palgrave 2019).

Bibliographic Information

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