Wallace Stevens’ Blurred Lines: WWII and the American Home Front

Jeffery C. Blanchard

The broad effects of war can be seen across spatial boundaries including the battlefield and the home front. However, there often remains a stark divide in war’s effects on the genre of war poetry. The effects of war are frequently limited to the battlefield poetry of soldier poets alone, marginalizing the poets writing about the psychological, emotional, and often physical tolls experienced on American soil. While this focus on all that is soldier poetry is largely due to the generic construct that is “war poetry” (a topic for another paper), within the work of Wallace Stevens lies the opportunity to examine the wide-ranging effects of war as the two spaces affected by war blur together, creating a “hybrid war zone” in his poetry written during WWII. Stevens’ wartime poetry collapses the spatial divide between war zone and home front, altering the image of war on the home front as his poetry develops an image of paranoia, fear, and universal wartime pain during WWII. In the end, Stevens provides a potent example of war poetry’s dynamic nature as a genre, illustrating the constant changes that occur as literature and war collide.

Most who are familiar with the WWI poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, and even Edmund Blunden are aware of the existence of two distinct war experiences: that of the soldier—seen in the combat described in the poetry—and that of the civilian—who receives much scorn for their dislocation from the battlefield. With WWII, war changed and the poetry of that era displays this change. The attack on Pearl Harbor ushered in a new era of civilian fear, altering the geo-spatial potential for war and exposing America’s fear of becoming the next war zone as it is attacked by an outside force for the first time in modern warfare. WWII also required a concerted effort on the part of all American citizens, so ours was a nation much more aware and affected by war. A more war-based poetry was generated, as seen in the WWII work of Wallace Stevens—a civilian writing from the home front. Stevens’ war poetry, such as “Dutch Graves in Bucks County,” successfully collapses the divide set by WWI poets due to the shifting paradigm of suffering as civilians now have the chance of coming under enemy fire rather than only the soldier feeling the effects of combat. The clearest examples of how Stevens’ wartime poetry blurs the two zones is through the paranoia of enemy attack and the concern over universal pain that has been ignited on home fronts around the world by WWII.

Many of Stevens’ wartime poems include some focus on attacks on civilian areas and the corresponding aftermath. This shift in focus creates a hybrid zone that distorts the boundary between soldier and civilian, shows the targeting of the American home front, and highlights the new likelihood of civilian suffering. In Stevens’ poetry, the war affects the home front without the presence of actual battle, yet the opportunity for—and constant fear of—violence and catastrophe rises due to attacks on American soil. With these shifts in the parameters of war, an increased possibility for civilian death prompts a corresponding fever pitch in fear. All of this enables a reading of Stevens that conflates the gap between his work and the work of previous war poets, for life in a war zone is a focal point in his poetry just as in the works of the WWI poets. While WWI presented writers from the home front like Rudyard Kipling or Jessie Pope, these writers did little to express any struggles or fears of a nation at war, instead providing poetry focused on detached patriotic lyrics. Stevens addresses the suffering and pain of all involved in war, providing a new voice for a previously marginalized group: civilians. The hybrid zone and its corresponding civilian suffering will be examined progressively through the poems “Dutch Graves in Bucks County” and “Esthétique du Mal.”

One of Stevens’ earliest poems addressing war’s disturbing omnipresence within the civilian space of the home front is “Dutch Graves in Bucks County.” In “Dutch Graves,” Stevens addresses not only the possibility of war on American soil, but he also expands his war zone into the temporal past and future. By so doing, the war slowly becomes an all-consuming entity that is inescapable even on the home front. The poem functions as a meditation in the mind of the poet, addressing Stevens’ unease over the possibility of further attacks on American soil. This is clear in the poem’s opening, where the home front begins its transformation into a space for war.

Angry men and furious machines

Swarm from the little blue of the horizon

To the great blue of the middle height.

Men scatter throughout clouds.

The wheels are too large for any noise. (Stevens 1-5)

Jacqueline Vaught-Brogan, in her book The Violence Within/ The Violence Without, presents a succinct reading of the poem, claiming that it “makes it clear that it is war—not any semblance of order or of an ordering fiction—that is taking dominion everywhere” around them (60). In “Dutch Graves,” Stevens does not construct a hero for protection, as he had done in other WWII-era poems like “Examination of a Hero in a Time of War,” but rather depicts a helpless American home front as war breaks through its borders. Stevens’ images are apocalyptic and technological in nature, fusing modern warfare with an ethereal sense of it coming from the beyond with enemies appearing “from the little blue of the horizon” and arriving at “the great blue of the middle height” of earth, armed and ready with their “circles of weapons in the sun” (Stevens 258, 259). This imagery creates an over-powering enemy that renders civilians helpless, a new concern for Americans in modern war. Wartime suffering has been displaced from the soldier, creating a hybrid zone where civilians no longer reside in the safe world they did during WWI. Instead, there is a constant fear of future attacks. [1] The boundaries that once divided the war experience of soldiers and civilians have been broken down, forcing the public to exist in a state of constant fear. Stevens is aware of this ubiquitous fear and the poem delineates fear’s growth on American soil.

There is a pervasive fear visible in “Dutch Graves,” augmented by the new proximity to war. There is a certain level of panic created in this poem that is absent in any Stevens work to date, signaling a work composed closer to war—or the possibility of war—than ever before. With the use of “flags,” “rifles,” “sight,” and “marching,” Stevens creates a sense of despondency for all under attack, a feeling of “desperado”—or hopelessness—in the present situation. [2]

The flags are natures newly found.

Rifles grow sharper on the sight.

There is a rumble of autumnal marching,

From which no soft sleeve relieves us.

Fate is the present desperado. (Stevens 22-26)

This passage asserts the uneasiness, the sense of helplessness, and the suffering that civilians feared was coming at this time. Stevens depicts war from the vantage point of civilians, highlighting their struggles and fears when facing an unfamiliar war. However, the climax is not yet reached and when the crescendo arrives, it is a terrifying moment with the enemy’s presence filling the air:

There is a loud battering of drums. The bugles

Cry loudly, cry out in the powerful heart.

A force gathers that will cry loudlier

Than the most metal music, loudlier,

Like an instinctive incantation. (Stevens 29-33)

The crescendo builds to the point where Stevens recreates the fear of every American citizen at this time for the reader, again giving the civilian context a previously undeveloped voice: a life filled with fighter-plane identification cards, nightly blackouts, and fear of the coming enemy (Brogan 61). These civilian fears arise due to the new opportunity for pain and suffering, creating poetry akin to the soldier war poetry of WWI. Consider Siegfried Sassoon’s “The Kiss,” where he addresses “Brother Lead and Sister Steel,” presumably bullet and gun, seeking to “guard her beauty clean from rust” and watches as “He spins and burns and loves the air” (Walter 31). Just as the tone in the WWI poetry shifted from exhilaration to fear after experiencing battle, a similar reaction is represented in the hybrid zone through Stevens’ poetry. Civilian suffering becomes a concrete possibility, creating a new perspective in the process.

As a civilian in a hybrid war zone, Stevens attempts to separate himself from the fear visible in American culture, a new approach in war poetry. While the WWI poets were forever linked to their surroundings and fellow soldiers, making them subjective participants, Stevens attempts to step away and observe the war’s effect on the home front from an objective point of view. History is a critical component of this tactic, for Stevens unites himself with his long dead Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, watching this attack in detached disbelief. Stevens addresses his ancestors on par with a Baudelairean “you, my semblables” in couplet form throughout the poem. [3] Although Stevens seemingly removes himself from the situation and observes it alongside his ancestors, he realizes that “you, my semblables…share nothing of ourselves” (Stevens 259). This statement creates distance between the war the Dutch dead experienced and the current war, leading to the alarming statement regarding the only solution to WWII:

An end must come in a merciless triumph,

An end of evil in a profounder logic,

In a peace that is more than a refuge,

In the will of what is common to all men,

Spelled from spent living and spent dying. (Stevens 259)

Stevens appears to realize the only way to victory is through a “merciless triumph,” an approach sure to yield more dead. Stevens counters this with his use of “evil” stating that —note it is not clear which side, if only one, the evil is on— this evil must be stopped through logic. The only way to end a war successfully is by using “what is common to all men” and that is the desire for life. This passage contains Stevens’ first use of the word “evil” in his wartime poetry, illustrating his concern over the war’s influence on humanity (Brogan 61). The presence of evil in the world persists, bringing tragedy in the wake of war. This image of a world at war creates apprehension about war’s collision with the public. While war initially affected only the soldiers, the major cause for fear in Stevens’ poetry is the shift to the “other people” now part of the war.

There were other soldiers, other people,

Men came as the sun comes, early children

And late wanderers creeping under the barb of night,

Year, year and year, defeated at last and lost

In an ignorance of sleep with nothing won. (Stevens 260)

Although both “defeated” and “won” are used here, neither is given precedence for war’s path has strayed too far from the battlefield towards the home front, resulting in no true victor—Ally or Axis. Death and suffering now affect all people. [4] Death becomes a part of life at a time where the goal of both sides became victory no matter the cost.

The end of “Dutch Graves” draws Stevens’ view into a more panoramic vision provides an all-encompassing view of the effects of war by Stevens, looking toward the future and his concern over how this war will affect humanity. Surprisingly, “Dutch Graves” does not present an ending admonishing total destruction, but at the same time, it is also not a concession to amelioration once conflict ends. Instead, it presents a world where welter becomes the norm “Dutch Graves” closes by considering the effects of war from a different perspective than seen in previous poems, as Stevens assesses WWII’s impact upon an entire “generation” rather than a particular segment of the population or a geographic region.

The violent marchers of the present,

Rumbling along the autumnal horizon,

Under the arches, over the arches, in arcs

Of a chaos composed in more than order,

March toward a generation’s centre. (Stevens 78-82 )

While the poem opened with the “angry men and furious machines” coming from the far-off distance of “the little blue of the horizon,” this passage shows that a spatial alteration has occurred. The attackers no longer “scatter throughout the clouds,” but have instead invaded local space and fly in between the structures we have built, the “arches” and “arcs” they go under, over, and around (Stevens 258). The war has reached American soil by the end of the poem and our space has been breached. It is here, in this passage, that the zones fully collapse and the chaos of war becomes the epicenter for an entire “generation.” The ending of “Dutch Graves” indicates a shift in Stevens’ understanding of war, expanding his vision from national to international, a distinction that is often missed. [5] The end of the poem begins to uncover Stevens’ concern for the “evil” of war, its influence on a generation, and the pain and suffering experienced by all, including civilians on the home front. One of Stevens’ most prominent works addressing the pain, suffering, and evil of a world at war is the 1944 poem “Esthétique du Mal.”

The war’s impact on friends, family, and acquaintances results in a worldwide collapse of space in “Esthétique du Mal,” where Stevens presents the struggles of a world immersed in the evil, pain, and suffering of war. Much like the poetry of WWI, Stevens’ poetry displays a concern for the people around him affected by war. However, Stevens’ concern was not limited to his home country of the United States, but rather expands to consider how the immense pain of war affects a worldwide community. By Autumn 1944, communication with friends and family makes Stevens increasingly aware of other home fronts at other corners of the world. This awareness of the war’s worldwide reach stems from interaction with the longtime friends Henry and Barbara Church; his nephew, John Bergen Stevens Jr., in the tank corps; his French friend Henri Amiot, who was a part of the French army and the catalyst of “Esthétique du Mal,” the unnamed soldier John Crowe Ransom referenced in his article “Artists, Soldiers, Positivists” in the Kenyon Review (Blessing 108). While undertaking an examination of the entire poem, and how the themes develop throughout, is beyond the scope of this work, I will focus on the poem’s development of accepting the pain of war and using human interaction as a means of survival to better illustrate how Stevens’ poetry brings war closer to the civilian world, bringing a new light to the genre.

“Esthétique du Mal” forges a wartime connection across humanity, defining grief through life rather than death with the presence of the female figure in canto VII. Stevens has shown the universal pain of war that humanity experiences, a pain no longer experienced solely by those at the front, forcing us to confront this pain. The geo-spatial collapse seen in poems like “Dutch Graves” precipitates a new understanding of grief through life that enables Stevens to bring the pain, death, and suffering of all experiencing war—soldier or civilian—to the forefront through his inclusion of a female figure that helps society recover from war. Through this female figure, Stevens offers a means by which one can cope with the pain of war through human means rather than by escape or trivializing. Ultimately, what Stevens presents is the need for human interdependence if there is any hope of surviving a world at war. “Esthétique” shows that survival is only possible by accepting the universal pain of death and helping one another through such crises. The true power in “Esthétique” lies in this humanistic illustration of the inadequacy of all other attempts to assuage the pain surrounding war, thereby labeling pain both human and inescapable. In the end, the inevitable experiences of war are only manageable through human compassion at the moments we need others most, exemplified in his central female figure. Stevens presents the vacuity of past wartime rhetoric and offers an alternative to cope with pain via human contact in “Esthétique.”

While the first half of “Esthétique” centers on the solitary male figure in Naples, just outside the erupting Mt. Vesuvius, the later cantos shift to address war, the accompanying pain, and how humanity copes with it. Stevens takes issue with society’s empty grieving process, arguing that any approach to wartime pain that does not accept the pain of death will only continue our indifference to death rather than allowing us to grieve and move on. Many poems that address issues surrounding war get caught up in the rhetoric of war, whether written from the battlefield or the home front. One could argue that Stevens himself gets temporarily caught up in rhetoric with his struggle to handle the tension between the hero, the nation, masculinity, and his own wartime civilian position. [6] However, by the time he reaches “Esthétique,” Stevens has come to see the fine line between coming to terms with the dead and the empty rhetoric. In canto VII, Stevens presents soldiers who “have fallen” (reverting to what Paul Fussell would deem euphemism) and have now “grown deathless in great size,” as the story or concept of the greatness of the soldier expands and grows beyond what a soldier is capable of (Fussell 174). The true irony in this canto is the application of the WWI image of the “red rose” in its representation of the soldier’s wound, blood, and death all in one (Stevens 281):

How red the rose that is the soldier’s wound,

The wounds of many soldiers, the wounds of all

The soldiers that have fallen, red in blood,

The soldier of time grown deathless in great size. (Stevens)

In this passage, Stevens’ use of expected wartime symbols undermines WWI poetry by grounding the dead soldier in detached aestheticism through the euphemism of the rose. Here, Stevens elucidates the process of coping with death on minimal terms rather than realistic representation and it has negative consequences. As society seeks out immediate conciliation, empty grieving shows itself to be the only option, resulting in “indifference” to death and a distance from one’s true emotions. While the death of men on the battlefield is a terrible loss, the response Stevens provides shows that the hybrid zone is still struggling to accept the reality of war:

A mountain in which no ease is ever found,

Unless indifference to deeper death

Is ease, stands in the dark, a shadows’ hill,

And there the soldier of time has deathless rest. (Stevens 281)

If society accepts this path to instantly accepting death, a path that avoids the true pain of war and holds on to the empty image of the red rose, then the soldier is not truly dead for no one grieves for him. This is the worst possible option during war, leaving “deathless rest” as the soldier’s sentence and fortifying society’s “indifference to deeper death.” The avoidance of war’s pain continues two stanzas later since the men themselves are not present for the soldier’s funeral, but their “shadows” are there as “the summer breathes for them” rather than the men crying at the funerary procession:

The shadows of his fellows ring him round

In the high night, the summer breathes for them

Its fragrance, a heavy somnolence, and for him,

For the soldier of time, it breathes, a summer sleep. (Stevens 281)

The above passage shows the euphemisms continuing, with the soldier given “a summer sleep” rather than a real death which would bring an end to his life. At this point, death is not yet defined in terms of the living for the grieving process is prohibited. Canto VII’s empty, outdated rhetoric is intentionally (and ironically) romanticized, presenting its futility when confronting a disaster on the scale of WWII. The empty rhetoric of previous wars exists in this canto as a poignant remark against its utility in WWII. In this canto, Stevens uses old forms to make a new poetic statement to war. Although this response may resemble that of WWI poetry, the context alters its meaning, for as the wartime needs of the nation have changed, rather than relying on previous methods and mediums, Stevens adapts previous styles to serve new needs. However, the canto ends with the presentation of a model that can bring civilians together to minimize their wartime pain and suffering: a female figure.

The inclusion of the woman in “Esthétique” is a critical development for Stevens’ war poetry, altering the landscape of the genre by providing a new space for women in war poetry, while at the same time giving the civilian perspective a prominent position. Stevens’ woman is a heroine of unrivaled greatness, a wartime healer, a figure capable of forging the connections that are challenging yet critical during wartime. The male perspective has retained dominance during modern war, having left the spheres of war experience without a sense of the role women play. Consider Siegfried Sassoon’s WWI poem “Glory of Women” as a point of comparison. This poem attacks the way women romanticize war while refusing to accept its terrifying and cruel reality:

You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,

Or wounded in a mentionable place.

You worship decorations; you believe

That chivalry redeems war’s disgrace.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

You can’t believe that British troops ‘retire’

When hell’s last horror breaks them, and they run,

Trampling the terrible corpses – blind with blood. (Walter 132)

Sassoon highlights the female misperception of war, thereby minimizing women’s functionality during conflict. Sassoon’s poem renders the woman a mute spectator, fooled by popular notions of chivalry, heroism, and glory. While Stevens has received due criticism over the years for the representation of women in his poetry, [7] the end of canto VII in “Esthétique” provides a female figure who breaks away from traditional roles seen in previous war poems. Stevens’ first example of wartime connection through the intimacy of human contact can be seen in the female figure’s interaction with a soldier at the end of canto VII. While the attempts at paying due respect and honoring the fallen seen in the first four quatrains of this canto prove to be futile, the female figure is the only individual capable of confronting the pain brought on by war. Recalling earlier in canto VII, it was the summer that grieved in place of the men, almost in a de facto way, preventing them from accepting the loss of their dead friend. The inclusion of the female figure at this moment due to her “calm[ing]” effect on the soldier, “beneath that stroke” of empathy, sets up a contrast with the empty Romantic imagery of the previous lines. With this interaction, Stevens provides something rarely seen in prior attempts to understand war, pain, and death: war seen through civilian female eyes:

And for him,

For the soldier of time, it breathes a summer sleep,

In which his wound is good because life was.

No part of him was ever part of death.

A woman smoothes her forehead with her hand

And the soldier of time lies calm beneath that stroke. (Stevens 281)

In this passage, the soldier recognizes that “his wound is good because life was,” essentially defining grief in terms of life rather than death. [8] The soldier differs vastly from the man sitting complacently before Mt. Vesuvius in canto I due to the presence of the woman and their connection. Death and pain are now accepted in real, human terms, and grief is defined through those who mourn the loss of loved ones. The efficacy of this approach to wartime pain is illustrated through the return of the female figure in canto X, where she is described in the following terms amongst other women in the world:

The softest woman,

Because she is as she was, reality,

The gross, the fecund, proved him against the touch

Of impersonal pain. Reality explained.

It was the last nostalgia: that he

Should understand. That he might suffer or that

He might die was the innocence of living, if life

Itself was innocent. (Stevens 283)

There is a clear carry-over of the woman’s healing abilities presented in canto VII, for the figure, here more of a mother symbol, returns the speaker—“He”—to reality, a life where pain is expected and death awaits. The mother provides a counter to canto VII’s empty rhetoric of the “summer sleep” and the “red rose” because those avoidances of wartime pain lead us nowhere. Instead, the mother plays the role of wartime consoler in “Esthétique,” as Stevens presents a different way of thinking by universalizing the pain experienced on the home front, as all mothers have the likelihood of feeling such, illustrating the benefit of human interdependence during war. Through this move, Stevens collapses all home fronts into one, enabling the mother to be shared by all soldiers and individuals confronting the pain of death in war. What society gains by taking the female figure’s hand is an understanding that pain must be confronted on a real level, not dismissed as “just part of war” or praised and honored from afar. This can only be achieved if people are dependent upon one another, and this is a key theme in the ending of “Esthétique.”

Stevens’ hybrid war zone stresses that we must accept our true feelings in order to overcome the inevitable pain of death and loss. In this way, his poetry resembles the poetry of WWI, a poetry that sought to clarify the reality of war and its aftermath: pain and death. By the end of “Esthétique,” Stevens points out that “we are not / At the centre of a diamond” that is the world around us (Stevens 283). Life is not ideal, but rather a “bitter aspic,” a dish one would normally find appealing but instead turns sour (Stevens 283). This reminder about life’s unavoidable tumult supports Stevens’ argument that we need to directly confront the pain of war rather than run from it or embrace inauthentic, detached attempts at dealing with war because these will not help with recovery. Stevens’ argument in “Esthétique” ultimately praises the need to feel during war; whether it is “desire” or “despair” does not matter:

The greatest poverty is not to live

In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire

Is too difficult to tell from despair.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is the thesis scrivened in delight,

The reverberating psalm, the right chorale. (Stevens 286)

In this passage from the final canto, Stevens speaks to attempts at feeling, showing his belief that if one lives in a world that embraces emotions, they live in the “delight” of life rather than the vacancy seen in the poem’s other examples. “Esthétique du Mal” ultimately offers a message to a world consumed with wartime pain. Stevens shows us the way to handle the inescapable pain of war by confronting it head-on through the presence of the female figure, a model for human interdependence and closeness. Only by accepting true feeling, whether good or evil, will survival emerge as an opportunity.

A clear shift can be seen in Stevens’ poetry in terms of its depiction of the two spheres at work in wartime: the war zone and the home front. In Stevens’ progression from “Dutch Graves” to “Esthétique du Mal,” his poetry remains focused on confronting and understanding a new wartime world of pain for civilians. Stevens’ poetry presents a new look at the second tenet, offering a hybrid zone that showcases the fear and suffering of civilians as the home front came under enemy attack, undoing any sense of safety. In order to cope with this dramatic shift, Stevens works through confronting pain head-on and offers a model of human compassion and interdependence to show how society can endure war together rather than in the isolation dictated by battlefield and home front. Instead, Stevens’ poetry shows how war infiltrates the life of everyone.

While the modern genre of war poetry rests heavily on the works of the soldier poets of WWI, it becomes critical to realize the existence of another era of wartime poetry. As the wars changed,, so too did the poetry. Much of the work written by Stevens describes a unique time in American history. To fully understand and value both the literature and the history behind it, a more flexible definition of “war poetry” needs to be considered. Stevens, among others during this time, helped show the myriad ways that war affected the lives of the American citizenry, collapsing the divide and providing a narrative to an often silent group: the public. War poetry continues to develop and it is crucial that we hear everyone’s voice in order to better understand how war affects us all.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Blessing, Richard. Wallace Stevens’ “Whole Harmounium.” Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse UP, 1970. Print.

Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1977. Print.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. 2nd. ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Stevens, Wallace. Collected Poetry and Prose. New York: Library of Classics of the United States, 1997. Print.

Vaught-Brogan, Jacqueline. The Violence Within/The Violence Without: Wallace Stevens and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Poetics. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2003. Print.

Vendler, Helen. On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens’ Longer Poems. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1969. Print.

Walter, George. ed. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. 5th ed. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006. Print.
1. This is a recurring response seen in civilian war poetry, and can be seen, for example, in the poetry of Jorie Graham following the September 11, 2001, attacks in her book Overlord.

2. “Desperado” finds its roots in the past participle of the Spanish word desperar, meaning to despair.

3. This reference to “mon semblable” stems from Baudelaire’s “Au Lecteur” in Les Fleirs du Mal (1861) and is used again by T.S. Eliot in his 1922 post-WWI poem “The Waste Land” (32,33). In all of these pieces, the poets attempt to bridge the gap between themselves and another person or group through the use of “Mom semblable.” Stevens uses the term to unify himself with his Dutch ancestors whereas Baudelaire and Eliot sought to connect with the readers of their poems: Baudelaire over and understanding of this modern life of “Ennui” and Eliot in a similar attempt showcasing modern London, the “Unreal City” of the postwar dead.

4. This is an issue that will be explored further in the next poem, “Esthétique du Mal,” where Stevens examines the issue of universal pain—for home front or soldier—in a world at war.

5. While many critics address the presence of war in “Dutch Graves,” this expansion to the international at the end of the poem is often missed. James Longenbach weighs heavily the presence of the soldiers of the past as does Alan Filreis in his reading, while Jacqueline Vaught-Brogan reads the poem strictly in terms of the American mood of war (214, 124, 62). In recognizing this concern for a generation’s suffering, the poem functions as a segue to “Esthétique du Mal” and helps further illustrate the collapse of war zone and home front on a massive scale.

6. This issue can be seen in earlier wartime poems that focused on Stevens’ hero figure: those like “Examination of the Hero in a Time of War,” “Asides on the Oboe,” and numerous others.

7. Two prominent sources for such a critique can be found in Ann Mikkelsen’s “Fat! Fat! Fat! – Wallace Stevens’s Figurations of Masculinity” and James Longenbach’s chapter “It Must Be Masculine” in Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things.

8. This is a key concept that will be seen again in this poem.