Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon, Nancy Davis, George McCelvey

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Man naturally pursues that which brings pleasure, and Wallace Stevens recognizes this inescapable desire, exploring it fully in his poetry, prose, and letters and depending upon it to build the foundation for many, if not most, of his major themes. For Stevens, one's world evolves through the use of poetry, and this world, complete with jubilations of fulfilled desire and frequent despair as illusions of fulfillment are destroyed, chronicles the life of every man. As a result, different kinds of desire and different attempts at satisfying these desires emerge as one reads Stevens--three of which will be advanced in this study.

The first, the desire for an ideal truth, takes an intellectual approach, searching for a clue to reality, for a "first idea." This ideal, though, in order to prove satisfactory to the intellect, needs to reconcile the apparent "war between the mind and sky." How do the realm of the imagination and the realm of reality work together? For Stevens, the attempt at an intersection often occurs in the realm of poetry, a world which provides a means of ordering the chaos of reality.

Stevens' investigation of human desire in this world is not limited to the intellect, however. At times the sensuous world itself provides the most appropriate objects for our desire. The wonders of our world, the mere experience of living, may provide needed stability in an otherwise precarious existence. Just as the jar placed in Tennessee gives order to the surrounding landscape, a life of observation and experience, established through the beautiful objects which are the focus of the lover's desire, attempts to provide an order.

The third, and perhaps the most interesting desire, occurs in the mind of the believer. Stevens recognizes the basic need for a deity; however, he also recognizes the origin of belief to be the collective creation of the myth-making force of a people, implying the ability to create new beliefs as unsatisfactory gods fade from importance. Stevens takes part in this recreation of myth through the emergence in his poetry of supreme fictions, possibilities he provides as examples of adequate beliefs.

This study, then, focuses on desire as a major thematic element in Wallace Stevens' poetry and emphasizes the role of desire in man's search for a harmonous existence with this world. In three major chapters the desire to reach an ideal truth through the blending of reality and Imagination, the desire to find pleasure in a world of objects, and the believer's creation and "decreation" of major fictions will be examined as key aspects of the essential element of desire in Wallace Stevens' poetry.


Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America | Poetry