The Whole Harmonium

The Life of Wallace Stevens

The Whole Harmonium

An “incandescent….redefining biography of a major poet whose reputation continues to ascend” (Booklist, starred review)—Wallace Stevens, perhaps the most important American poet of the twentieth century.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) lived a richly imaginative life that he expressed in his poems. “A biography that is both deliciously readable and profoundly knowledgeable” (Library Journal, starred review), The Whole Harmonium presents Stevens within the living context of his times and as the creator of a poetry that continues to shape how we understand and define ourselves.

A lawyer who rose to become an insurance-company vice president, Stevens composed brilliant poems on long walks to work and at other stolen moments. He endured an increasingly unhappy marriage, and yet he had his Dionysian side, reveling in long fishing (and drinking) trips to the sun-drenched tropics of Key West. He was at once both the Connecticut businessman and the hidalgo lover of all things Latin. His first book of poems, Harmonium, published when he was forty-four, drew on his profound understanding of Modernism to create a distinctive and inimitable American idiom. Over time he became acquainted with peers such as Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams, but his personal style remained unique.

The complexity of Stevens’s poetry rests on emotional, philosophical, and linguistic tensions that thread their way intricately through his poems, both early and late. And while he can be challenging to understand, Stevens has proven time and again to be one of the most richly rewarding poets to read. Biographer and poet Paul Mariani’s The Whole Harmonium “is an excellent, superb, thrilling story of a mind….unpacking poems in language that is nearly as eloquent as the poet’s, and as clear as faithfulness allows” (The New Yorker).
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 504 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451624380 | 
  • April 2017
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About the Author

Paul Mariani
Photograph by Eileen Mariani

Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani is the University Professor of English at Boston College. He is the author of eighteen books, including seven volumes of poetry and biographies of Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and William Carlos Williams, which was a National Book Award finalist. His life of Hart Crane, The Broken Tower, was made into a feature-length film directed by and starring James Franco. He lives in western Massachusetts.

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