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This article is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

Wallace Stevens's Imaginary Europe Robert Rehder

Someone once asked Wallace Stevens why he did not go to Europe and he replied that he preferred to imagine it. His answer illuminates his relation to the world - and the imag ination. An entry in his journal (10 November [1900]) when he was twenty-one reads: 'I hope to get to Paris next summer - and mean to if I have the money.' Some nine years later he writes to Elsie Moll [24 January 1909]: 'I should rather spend a year in Germany than any other part of Europe, provided, of course, I had facilities for getting into the life and thought of the day - ...' This desire to know or make contact is a recurring idea in Stevens's thinking about foreign places. Being a simple sight-seer did not interest him. As he grew older, his desire changed. Although, as an insurance executive, he could have easily afforded to go to Europe every spring or summer and was surrounded by people who did go - 'everybody I know is in Europe' he writes to Harriett Monroe [July 1924?] and years later to Thomas McGreevy (4 June 1953): 'Everyone is going to Europe' - he did not go.

Instead he visited Germany in imagination. Barbara Church, in a letter about her trip to Germany, used the phrase 'blue and white Munich', which started Stevens thinking. He explains to her (13 July 1948) why as a boy 'Munich itself became an image of dark tones' and that: ...

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