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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

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Activities: Author Activities

Wallace Stevens - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Several of Stevens's poems question the possibility of finding meaning in one's life. What is meant by "the nothing that is" in "The Snow Man"? What is the significance of the statement "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream" in "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"? What do you think the speaker is disillusioned about in "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock"?

  2. Comprehension: What is "Sunday Morning" saying about organized religion and the individual's pursuit of pleasure? What is the significance of the question "What is divinity if it can come / Only in silent shadows and in dreams"?

  3. Context: Consider what "Gubbinal" and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" seem to be saying about the possibility for human objectivity. How might you interpret these poems as being especially modernist in their outlook on the primacy of individual perception? Do you see connections between this interest in multiple perspectives and the work of modern artists, such as Picasso, Duchamp, or Braque?

  4. Exploration: Do you see similar concerns in Stevens's poetry as in T. S. Eliot's or Marianne Moore's? What issues seem to preoccupy these and other modernist poets? Do other writers (poets and fiction writers) from this time period or other time periods also seem concerned with these issues?

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