Meaning Is Crucial: Wallace Stevens & A Clean Well Lighted Place
To survive and maintain a healthy lifestyle in today’s world, you must live without regrets and with a pursuit of happiness. Poet, Wallace Stevens suggests that to survive in today’s modern society is vastly different than the ability to prosper. Following the destruction of WWI, the majority of people started to settle with life’s problems rather than overcoming them. Stevens, through his poems “The Snowman” and “Of Modern Poetry,” utilizes meaningful settings to convey a greater sense of meaning. Relating several of his poems to religion, he attempts to portray a sense of purpose in life. By integrating paradox and metaphors into his poetry, Stevens describes the idea of supreme fiction and the need for existentialism.
Through his poetry, Stevens uses symbolic metaphors to show the dark sense of life, which followed the aftermath of WWI. Throughout this Age of Anxiety, many people were lonely and in a state of depression. However, Stevens believed that meaning in life could make up for the negativity, and in the end, result in happiness. In agreement with the majority of modern poets, Stevens emphasized that the key to a joyful life was imagination. Exemplified in “The Snowman,” he feels people should maintain a “mind of winter / To regard the frost and boughs” (TSM 1-2). A “mind of winter” represents the ability to live life with simplicity and is essential following WWI. If individuals can learn to live meaningful and basic lives, their lifestyles will improve as well. Also, in “The Snowman,” his reference to the “January sun” portrays a new beginning (TSM 7). This device describes that despite the dispirited state of the world, it is still possible to live with a sense of meaning. Stevens claims in “Of Modern Poetry” that you must “be the finding of satisfaction” (OMP 25). He makes this assertion to show that not everyone is satisfied with their life; however, the ability to discover happiness is still possible. The term of inserting meaning into life is supreme fiction, and this is one of the most evident concepts Stevens uses to create a solution to life’s existential problems.
After WWI, the vision of life was dark and depressing; Stevens represents through setting and imagery within his poems. Through “The Snowman,” Stevens emphasizes a metaphorical snowman to represent existentialism. Stevens utilizes the snowman to describe a man who is living a distant, emotionless life. This snowman renders how humans, not living an engaging life, will become depressed and will experience hostility. When this metaphorical “snowman” becomes optimistic in his life, he understands that life is not as bad as it can be perceived as he discovers a “distant glitter” (TSM 6). The literal and metaphorical glitter represents a sense of light and hope through the dark tunnel of life; it also represents a feeling of joy and promise. In “Of Modern Poetry, ”Stevens utilizes the metaphor of a “metaphysician in the dark” to portray a sense of darkness and tragedy following WWI (OMP 20). Stevens recognizes how people can be motivated similar to the metaphysician; he was able to do this because of the time in which he lived in. Stevens offers an existential lifestyle while preaching that self-betterment is the answer to this time period. He notes that people are not kind to one another and that you should focus on improving yourself and not others around you. The utilization of the metaphorical snowman and the metaphysician in the dark illustrates the effectiveness of focusing on your own identity and well-being.
Within his work, Stevens utilizes paradoxes to uncover supreme fiction in the existential problems of life. Within “Of Modern Poetry,” Stevens uses the statement “the poem of the mind” (OMP 1). Throughout this specific time duration, the majority of people thought of poetry as merely a combination of words that created poems. However, Stevens takes a different approach while writing less traditionally and more metaphorically speaking. The conventional human-being would not consider a “woman / combing” hair as a poetic device. Thus, Stevens transforms everyday actions into meaningful poetry. Usually, poems are structured through rhyme or with the use of iambic pentameter. However, Stevens reinvents this by adding his own order and rhythm throughout his poems. Stevens also preaches that imagination is essential in seeing the world as a meaningful place in which people can thrive in. The line in “The Snowman,” “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” closely relates to Stevens ideal that everything has meaning (TSM 15). Following the tragic aftermath of WWI, this ideal is critical because Americans had to live their life with a purpose to find peace in their wardriven lives.
Through the poetry of Wallace Stevens, several pieces of his work relate to supreme fiction in life following the tragic aftermath of WWI. He proposes that meaning is the route to a life filled with happiness. Ernest Hemingway, another American journalist, wrote “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” In this piece of literary work, the character referenced as an old waiter portrays a modern poet while the character referencing a young waiter is described as a pessimist who sees life as dreadful; however, the old waiter nourishes his job. Rather than doing his work for money, the old waiter uses his work to interact and improve the lives of others. Both the old waiter and Wallace Stevens use their professions to portray that no matter what circumstances life puts you in, you can always find meaning.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Hemingway: a Collection of Critical Essays, by Ernest Hemingway, Prentice-Hall, 1962.
Stevens, Wallace. “Of Modern Poetry by Wallace Stevens.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43435/of-modern-poetry.
Stevens, Wallace. “The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens.” Poetry Foundation ,
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