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This article is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

Wallace Stevens and R.S. Thomas Andrew Rudd

R.S. Thomas was an open admirer of his American contemporary, Wallace Stevens. Several of Thomas's poems refer to Stevens, in particular `Wallace Stevens' (1963) and `Homage to Wallace Stevens' (1995). These two poems suggest a lengthy and deep engagement with Stevens' work over many years. This admiration may seem strange: Thomas, a priest - Stevens, dismissive of religion. Thomas, noted for spareness and austerity of language - Stevens, famous for the richness of his poetic texture. Both poets, however, share some very deep concerns: the power of the imagination, the search for `God', however conceived, and a belief that poetry itself can be an experiment into the deepest questions of human identity.

`Wallace Stevens' starts like this:

On New Year's night after a party
His father lay down and made him
In the flesh of a girl out of Holland.
The baby was dropped at the first fall
Of the leaf...

Conceived, almost brutally, on New Year's Night, Stevens is a `fall' baby - in every sense of the word. He is `dropped' like an animal, like a leaf. For years he was `dumb,/Mumbling the dry crust/Of poetry.' This line almost quotes Stevens himself: `That's it. The lover writes, the believer hears,/The poet mumbles...' To be a poet, in Helen Vendler's words, is to `speak sotto voce, mumbling to oneself'. The first voice, the address to the self trying to make sense of the world. Thomas hints ...


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