US poet, whose difficult and elusive work attempted a new poetic insight into the nature of reality.
Stevens was born at Reading, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard, and later New York Law School, being admitted to the US bar in 1904. He was employed as a lawyer by an insurance company for many years, finally becoming vice-president of the firm in 1934. His poetry was a private activity, of which many of his colleagues had no knowledge.
After the appearance of several poems in various anthologies and a couple of one-act free-verse plays, Stevens's first collection of poetry, Harmonium, was finally published in 1923, when he was forty-four. Subsequent collections include Ideas of Order (1936), The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Parts of a World (1942), The Necessary Angel (1951; a collection of essays), and Collected Poems (1954). Stevens was preoccupied with the interaction between external reality and man's perception of it. This theme permeated his poetry, which is characterized by a brilliantly original vocabulary. Critics, perhaps confused by the contrast between Stevens's conservative lifestyle and his innovative poetry, have had some difficulty in categorizing his work; generally he is placed within the Symbolist tradition of European modernism. Although his early poems have a pronounced European flavour (and he probably was influenced by Baudelaire and Mallarmé), he remained essentially a spokesman for his own environment; indeed, he never left the USA, even for a holiday abroad.