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).
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.
"Incandescent. . . . A redefining biography of a major poet whose reputationcontinues to ascend."
– Booklist (starred review)
“Those of us who consider Wallace Stevens among the gods of modern poetry — the equal of Yeats, Eliot, and Frost — have waited impatiently for decades for a good biography of this elusive, compelling figure. Paul Mariani has performed a small miracle here, drawing together the life and work in seamless harmony, digging into the interior life of the man who defines the word ‘imagination’ for our time. The great enterprise of Stevens, whose language was always his own, like nothing else in this world, has been ably served by this biography. It’s a moving and deeply informative book, one that brings us close to the flame itself, that mind on fire."
– Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life and Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal
“Paul Mariani’s excellent new book, The Whole Harmonium, is a thrilling story of a mind. . . . He has a prehensile feel for the roots and branches of literary modernism, exemplary taste in what he chooses to quote, and a real gift for exegesis, unpacking poems in language that is nearly as eloquent as the poet’s, and as clear as faithfulness allows. . . . Superb.”
– Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker
“In this his amazing sixth major biography, Paul Mariani illustrates again his mastery of the form. Writing with breezy fluency, the sympathy of a fellow poet, and with the confident authority of a superb teacher, Mariani has captured the life of Wallace Stevens as no one has before.”
– Ron Hansen, author of A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion: A Novel
“A consensus has grown around the proposition that Wallace Stevens is the modern American poet who has had the greatest and most lasting influence on the generations of poets that have followed. . . . The Whole Harmonium,Paul Mariani's excellent biography, is a welcome addition to the Stevens shelf.”
– David Lehman, editor, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and series editor, The Best American Poetry
"This life of Wallace Stevens cements poet and biographer Mariani's role as the James Boswell of our age. It is beautifully written; a compelling vision of one of the 20th-century's greatest and most enigmatic literary figures. . . . Mariani weaves skillfully many strands, creating a biography that is both deliciously readable and profoundly knowledgeable. . . . This is the Stevens biography for which poetry lovers have been waiting. . . . Brilliant."
– Library Journal (starred review)
"Mariani speculates on Stevens’s sometimes difficult, contrary nature and on hislifelong search for meaning and the sublime. . . . [A] finely wrought analysis."
– Publishers Weekly
“Mariani ably balances a straightforward chronicle of events from his subject’s life with an analysis of the poet’s often difficult, inventive work. While the two can seem quite separate at times, Mariani manages to make connections that give a deeper understanding of the man and the poet. . . . Though it is hard to convey a life of the mind, Mariani’s biography does justice to this cerebral, metaphysical poet and his enduring body of work.”