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Textual Fluidity, or Why We Need to Acknowledge Poetry Books in Multiple Versions

Composed for Solo Guitar or String Orchestra? The Fluid Incarnations and Pedagogical Opportunities of Wallace Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar

Bart Eeckhout

Résumés

Cet article analyse les défis critiques, éditoriaux et pédagogiques mais aussi les opportunités que représente The Man with the Blue Guitar de Wallace Stevens, à la fois simple poème et recueil. De la première version autographe du poème (restée inédite) aux extraits sélectionnés pour les revues Twentieth Century Verse et Poetry, jusqu’à sa première parution sous forme de recueil autonome chez Knopf en 1937 (réédité en 1952 dans un autre format), puis à son intégration dans différentes éditions partielles, complètes ou illustrées, le poème-titre n’a cessé de se transformer sur le marché anglophone et au-delà, donnant lieu à de multiples versions en langue originale et en traduction. Ce qui se fait jour est alors un récit mêlant génétique textuelle et histoire éditoriale, où les transformations matérielles du recueil et ses infinies permutations font écho à une esthétique stevensienne fondée sur la variation sérielle sur un même thème.

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Texte intégral

“Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations or interactions.”
Wallace Stevens, aphorism from “Adagia” (Stevens, 1997 903)

Introduction: The Poetic Staging of a Fundamental Instability

  • 1 Throughout this contribution, the term most common in Stevens criticism—“canto”—will be used to ref (...)

1Nowadays, the first few pages from Wallace Stevens’s long poem in thirty-three cantos, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (1937), are probably read more frequently and attentively than the final pages.1 They are certainly cited more often in scholarship on the poet. So readers may already have recognized some of the distant, composite allusion in this essay’s title. In canto XII, Stevens’s speaker imagines not just a single blue guitar, but an entire “orchestra” that “Fills the high hall with shuffling men” (Stevens, 1997 140). This instrumental multiplication creates a tension with the more commonly cited opening couplets of the fourth canto:

So that’s life, then: things as they are?
It picks its way on the blue guitar.

A million people on one string?
And all their manner in the thing,

And all their manner, right and wrong,
And all their manner, weak and strong? (Stevens, 1997 136)

2Here, the lyric speaker, whose notably abstract quality has been analyzed perceptively by Edward Ragg (55-77), fires away questions at the reader, including whether a million people—a whole city, perhaps, or, by extrapolation, an entire nation—could ever be represented aesthetically by playing a single tune on a single instrument’s single string. It’s the age-old question of the limits of aesthetic synecdoche that informs not only this particular poem but so much of Stevens’s work in general, and indeed of art-making overall. We can see the same question emerge already decades earlier in his short lyric (simultaneously an anti-lyric) “Metaphors of a Magnifico” (1918), where

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village. (Stevens, 1997 15)

3By 1937, Stevens has merely expanded this kind of poetic reflection from twenty men to a million people. But then, the historical context has changed dramatically. During the Great War, the twenty men whose “boots” resounded so distinctly on “the boards of the bridge” were likely to have reminded readers of soldiers (Stevens, 1997 16), whereas by the mid-thirties literary discussions on either side of the Atlantic were deeply informed by the pressures exerted by the masses (economic as well as political) that pushed poets and artists into taking a stance. When Stevens sat down to compose his variations on the theme of a man with a blue guitar, much depended on distinguishing between the one and the many, on pronouncing allegiance to the individual or the group.

4For the purpose of the investigation undertaken here, we can afford to sidestep the question whether, or to what extent, or even how we might ever decide if, Stevens’s speaker intends his question about reducing a million people to the strumming of a single guitar string as either rhetorical or genuine. The direction in which the question in my own title tends is easier to determine: from a text-genetic, a historicizing materialist, a critical-reception, or a pedagogical angle—the perspectives most relevant to the current special issue—it seems inevitable that we turn the guitar’s single string into a string orchestra. The focus in what follows is not on the (mis)representation of a million people but on the fluid historical incarnations of Stevens’s imagined guitar player. And the rationale for highlighting the metaphor of orchestral multiplication is that, both textually and contextually, there never appears to have been a single man with a single blue guitar to begin with: there has only ever been a number of men playing multiple guitars in various contexts. And different men playing different guitars by definition produce a different music, no matter how slight the nuances.

Fluidity and Pedagogy: Possible Approaches

5We live in an age when fluidity as a conceptual framework exerts a great appeal on many. The philosophical antecedents for this involve a range of influential thinkers who have sought to replace ontologies of being by ontologies of becoming—from Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century to Simone de Beauvoir, Gilles Deleuze, and Judith Butler in the twentieth. By the turn of the millennium, this epistemic shift translated into the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s revision of postmodernity as what he called, in one of his books’ titles, Liquid Modernity (2000). A quick panoramic scan of disciplinary fields from the social and life sciences reveals how widespread the insistence on fluidity has become. A 2004 essay in the European Journal of Social Psychology, for instance, tackles how self-concepts tend to be fluid rather than stable and concludes that self-perception is “highly variable and context-dependent” (Onorato and Turner 257). A 2018 review essay published in Social Science & Medicine argues that even “biological identity . . . is now being recognized as dynamic or fluid” due to “the individual body’s unique relationship with the world surrounding it” (hence the shift from “biological” to “biosocial” identities) (Wiese et al. 46). More recently still, a survey article in Scientific Reports proposes that gender identity is to be regarded as by definition a “spectrum of associations with both genders” (Tacikowski et al.).

6It can come as no surprise, then, that in the study of literary texts, too, the emphasis has shifted from an attempt to determine authoritative source texts and interpretations to an acknowledgement of the fundamentally dynamic and open-ended nature of primary materials insofar as they circulate in multiple versions, are transformed into new guises, and find themselves interpreted in different cultural contexts to particular sociopolitical ends. This is why John Bryant managed to be so successful with his study The Fluid Text (2002), where he argued for a reorientation toward multiple versions of literary texts and the necessarily fluctuating contexts of their reception. The case study about Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar presented here primarily offers a concrete application of—rather than a theoretical debate with—Bryant’s principle of textual fluidity by looking into the history of the poem’s many incarnations. It pursues the critical, editorial, and pedagogical opportunities that arise from a consideration not only of the earliest published extracts in poetry magazines or the first appearance of the book to which the poem gave its name, but also of the autograph that preceded print publication, a series of poetic reconfigurations in later assemblages of Stevens’s work in book form, as well as a number of notable transformations of the poem by both a world-famous visual artist and a handful of translators into French and German.

7A roaming investigation of this sort enforces a sense of what Bauman has theorized as the liquid appreciation of artworks (one symptom of his liquid modernity). It illustrates how texts by major writers typically proliferate and are ill-served by a logic of impermeable self-identity. A methodological approach that insists on the liquidity of what it studies also fits modernist poetry well because of that poetry’s recurrent investment in multiplicity, opacity, and interpretive open-endedness. Fluidity of response is what such poetry simply requires. Stevens’s own poem, as my opening paragraphs served to indicate, clearly partakes of the modernist preference for an aesthetic of contingency and lends itself readily to a case study of this kind. By the same token, it poses pedagogical challenges that should be acknowledged upfront. Although the following case study opens many possible avenues of investigation, these don’t always translate into attractive classroom opportunities. “The Man with the Blue Guitar” may be held in high esteem by scholars specializing in Stevens’s poetry, yet there is evidence to suggest that it isn’t a classroom favorite.

8On two occasions so far, experts have gathered to explore the delights and perils of teaching Stevens. The first occasion resulted in a book published thirty years ago, Teaching Wallace Stevens: Practical Essays (1994), the second in a special issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal titled “Teaching Stevens” (2017). Collectively, these testimonies suggest that “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” despite its critical centrality in studies of the poet’s career, occupies but a marginal place in attempts to teach Stevens’s poetry. The twenty-four contributions to the former book, for instance, contain but two instances where some extended attention is given to the didactic possibilities offered by the poem, and in neither case does the author recommend teaching the poem as a whole. Similarly, the fifteen contributions to the special issue pay attention to the poem on only two occasions (neither of which derives from the international testimonies about teaching Stevens in Israel, Belgium, Sweden, China, Portugal, France, and Malta). Of the two critics who do bring up the poem, moreover, one insists that “The Man with the Blue Guitar” is too “long and difficult” to teach in its entirety; she proposes limiting discussion to a sample of just four cantos (Amiran 175). It is only Alex Streim and Zachary Tavlin who allow their coauthored essay to culminate in a consideration of pedagogical possibilities presented by the poem. And even their subtitle—“How to Make Difficult Poetry Fun Again”—contains a concession that the didactic fun they propose needs to be wrought from what would appear to be forbidding material.

9Judiciously, Streim and Tavlin draw inspiration from the way Stevens’s poem aligns itself with music making and invites an aesthetic of performative play. Their recommendation is to bypass conventional classroom roles, in which the teacher-expert acts as a guide trying to raise students’ understanding and appreciation of a literary masterpiece. Instead, they stake everything on allowing students to experience the poem’s sonic and stylistic play unencumbered by the need for critical insight. They see “The Man with the Blue Guitar” primarily as “an opportunity to establish a variety of voices and roles.” In the poem’s “underlying scenario,” they argue,

the player, the audience, the guitar, and the speaker convene with their own initially distinct stances, their wildly different dispositions, toward the music performed. The guitarist is a solo performer, but as Bonnie Costello notes about Stevens’s musicians, “other voices cut in,” and the player’s performance fills with “questions and counterturns, variant stylistic voices.” (Streim and Tavlin 242)

10To Streim and Tavlin, it might thus be enough to organize a collective reading of the poem in which the thirty-three cantos are read in turn by different students to “reflect on the vocal transformations.” It should be sufficient, they feel, to

elicit a basic understanding of Stevens’s world-building poetry—and the possibility of inhabiting poetry [...]—by constructing a musical world with our students, arranging a performance of “Ourselves in the tune as if in space” (Stevens, 1997 137). We all “play” the verse differently—an observation built easily on a discussion about musical score versus performance—and as they read their parts we ask them to reflect upon their vocal choices. (Streim and Tavlin 242)

In the end, the two critics propose,

one need not speak “of the greatness of poetry,” for it’s there “Even in the chattering of your guitar,” even in the chattering collaboration of a classroom taking pleasure in an exercise that lets them “twang it out and leave it there” (Stevens, 1997 136-138). One should not purge the classroom of all that noisy chatter in search of a “classical sound”—the sound of classical academics pronouncing pentameters from their lecterns—that more often than not leaves students cold. (243)

Selected for Its Appeal: David Hockney’s Visual Transformation

11If tapping into the pleasures of a principally sonic performance and stylistic exploration of Stevens’s poem offers one didactic approach that can circumvent the dangers of a plodding textual exegesis, then another approach takes the form of a comparative intermedial analysis. For this, the most appealing material was created around the midpoint of the poem’s history between 1937 and today. It consists of a series of images that may be traced through a number of institutional websites but for which we were unable to obtain the copyright permission for reproduction here. So we must ask readers to open the following page from the Art Institute of Chicago’s website.

12On the webpage we can see, undoubtedly, a man with a blue guitar—or maybe not: we can see the drawing of part of a man who rather resembles a photo by Sylvia Salmi of the historical poet Wallace Stevens, and then, within the same frame, a kind of drawing, with considerable artistic freedom, of part of a blue guitar, plus a further constellation of images that are more abstract than figurative. Every viewer is free to associate these images with the fractured components of a musical clef, the rhythmic variation of strummed music, the fingerprints of a guitar player, the colors produced by the music, the elaboration of variations on a theme, and so forth. Most of these visual elements sit on the page in unperturbed independence from each other, only slightly connected by their rhythmic spacing and the optical illusion of a three-dimensional field hinted at by a number of suggested shadows. They are simultaneously autonomous and heteronomous components of the etching’s larger Gestalt that mutually resist and condition each other. Put differently, their individual autonomy is conditioned by heteronomous forces surrounding them even as their heteronomy is restrained by a dogged insistence on individual autonomy. In this sense, they turn out to be quite apt for this case study, in which the textual components of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (the serial poem, divided into thirty-three relatively independent cantos), or the poem itself as part of The Man with the Blue Guitar (the collection), or the poem or collection as part of a variety of book-length constellations (in English or other languages), are all marked by a similar straining between autonomous and heteronomous significations.

13The selected illustration is number 13, “The Poet,” in a series of twenty etchings drawn by the British painter David Hockney in the fall of 1976 and the spring of 1977 under the collective title of “The Blue Guitar.” All etchings were subsequently reproduced in what the colophon calls a catalogue, published in October 1977 by Petersburg Press, where the images accompany a reproduction of Stevens’s complete poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” On the title-page etching, “The Blue Guitar” is subtitled “Etchings by David Hockney Who Was Inspired by Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired by Pablo Picasso,” but in the printed catalogue this becomes even more layered: there we get Wallace Stevens’s “The Man with the Blue Guitar” accompanied by small reproductions of etchings by David Hockney who was inspired by Stevens’s poem that was in turn inspired by Picasso. For pedagogical purposes, this catalogue may well qualify as the most attractive edition of Stevens’s poem. In Teaching Wallace Stevens, Charles Doyle usefully suggests how a discussion of Stevens’s poetry starting from a comparison with contemporary painting might work. To Doyle, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” offers a great opportunity to address the “influence of cubist theory” on the poet (201). The poem’s protagonist, he ventures,

is seen as a “shearsman,” which in the guise of either analytical cubist or collagist, can make him a cubist figure. The teacher can reinforce this point by demonstrating that the poem’s thirty-three sections are not, or not primarily, a sequential argument or a narrative, but a juxtaposition of details, so that the opening of section II—“I cannot bring a world quite round, / Although I patch it as I can”—alludes ironically both to technique and to epistemological limitation. (Doyle 201-202)

14The challenge for students then becomes to identify details, establish patterns, and triangulate interpretations while traveling back and forth between Stevens’s poem, Picasso’s and other cubists’ paintings, and Hockney’s freely associative etchings.

  • 2 On the inside of the book’s dust cover jacket, a brief note by Hockney explains that the etchings “ (...)
  • 3 The eighth etching, “In a Chiaroscuro,” is missing from MoMA’s online portfolio. The set may be vie (...)

15We might consider the 1977 Hockney catalogue of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” the most desirable printed version to teach—if only there were enough copies to circulate among students. Fortunately, there are viable practical alternatives if we choose to combine printed poem with online images. Hockney’s etchings, after all, lend themselves to extraction: they were never designed as immediate illustrations of the text but as artistic transformations of it, and their titles connect them mostly to stanzas reprinted on different pages from those they face in the catalogue.2 It’s perfectly possible, therefore, to have students pore over the images at home in preparation of class meetings. Somewhat mysteriously, on Hockney’s own website the set of twenty etchings is reproduced in such low resolution as to exclude close study. But there are various institutional websites that offer high-quality images: besides the example from the Art Institute of Chicago provided above, the etchings are also available as part of the online collection of MoMA in New York, though here the mystery is why they should be limited to nineteen of the twenty works.3

Fluid Forms of Textual Emergence: Extracts in Poetry Magazines, a Book with Another Nested Inside

16If the 1977 version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” as augmented by David Hockney offers attractive pedagogical possibilities provided the teacher opt for multimedia bricolage and has the good fortune to teach students competent to deal with modernist poetry and the visual arts all at once, another option is to turn to the beginning of the poem’s textual life. But the question then arises: which beginning? There appear to be four or five origins worth attending to. Most readers will be inclined to see the first published edition of the poem in book form as the starting point of its literary life. And, certainly, it was the starting point of the completed poem’s official public life, namely Stevens’s volume entitled The Man with the Blue Guitar & other poems, published on October 4, 1937, by Alfred Knopf in New York:

Fig. 1. Cover of The Man with the Blue Guitar & other poems (1937).

17That volume started out with the long title poem, followed by three other poems, “Owl’s Clover,” “A Thought Revolved,” and “The Men That Are Falling”:

Fig. 2. Table of contents from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).

18Note the design of the contents page: it builds an architectural cluster as the reader would never again encounter it afterwards. Four poems, three of them divided into cantos with Roman numerals, followed by the capping stone of “The Men That Are Falling.” On the face of it, the reader might have been forgiven for thinking that these four poems held each other in a perfect balance, but this is an illusion, of course: the first two poems run to more than thirty pages each, while “A Thought Revolved” dwindles to four and “The Men That Are Falling” to two.

19Since an investigation into the material incarnations of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” undertaken in the spirit of Bryant’s work necessitates a consideration not only of the text but also of its contexts and paratexts, a few further things stand out here. There isn’t just the remarkable architectural symmetry in the table of contents; there are additional paratextual features that frame the poem differently from how it has come to be canonized. Take the two-paragraph statement on the dust jacket, composed by Stevens himself. It disappeared from later reconfigurations of the poem only to reemerge in 1989 in Milton Bates’s revised edition of Opus Posthumous, where an editorial endnote explains about a small textual emendation (Stevens, 1989a 328), and then again, without explanation about the emendation, in very small print at the far end of the Library of America edition of Stevens’s collected poetry and prose. One of the striking forms of contextualization effected by this blurb is that it sets out by describing “Owl’s Clover” in the first paragraph and only then turns its attention to “The Man with the Blue Guitar” in the second. The latter composition, furthermore, is defined by Stevens as a “group” of poems—rather than a single long poem—that “deals with the incessant conjunctions between things as they are and things imagined. Although,” Stevens adds, “the blue guitar is a symbol of the imagination, it is used most often simply as reference to the individuality of the poet, meaning by the poet any man of imagination” (Stevens, 1997 998). The fact that “Owl’s Clover” is mentioned first is probably no coincidence. This is where the ambiguity between the poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” and the book The Man with the Blue Guitar surfaces most clearly, and why it’s hard to decide even on the number of beginnings of Stevens’s book. Owl’s Clover had itself already been published in the previous year by the non-trade publisher The Alcestis Press. In other words, part of the volume The Man with the Blue Guitar & other poems had already been published as a separate book before. And not just an identical part: at 861 lines, the Alcestis Press version of Owl’s Clover had been substantially longer than the shortened and revised version of 607 lines Stevens included in his collection for Knopf. If we borrow the respective poems’ imagery, we might say that, in his first appearance in a book, Stevens’s man with a blue guitar sat down in a field of owl’s clover that had already been planted and replanted.

20The 1937 Knopf edition serves as a major reference point in the public life of “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” but it isn’t therefore the first printed embodiment of the poem. If our interest is in a fine-grained historical understanding of the dynamic networks of literary modernism, rather than in the would-be timelessness of individually authored books, then we should turn to two of the “little magazines” that shaped the sense of a collective modernist movement: Twentieth Century Verse and Poetry. To the April 1937 issue of the former (a magazine that had only just been launched in January of that year), Stevens contributed two cantos from his then-ongoing “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (numbers V and XXVI) and gave them titles: the canto starting with “Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry” and going on to proclaim that poetry “must take the place / Of empty heaven and its hymns” was titled “The Place of Poetry” (Stevens, 1997 136-137; Cook 116), while the canto containing the phrase “inaccessible Utopia” became, not very originally, “Inaccessible Utopia” (Stevens, 1997 147; Cook 126). In either case, then, Stevens seems to have settled quickly on language from the respective cantos to devise provisional titles. At the same time, the selection of merely two cantos, culled from very different locations on the poem’s chain of variations, reproduced in reverse sequence, and parading under alternative titles (as well as under the collective cover title of “Two Poems,” without reference to a man with a blue guitar, Cook 112), has its own, more bluntly programmatic effect on the reader. It helps to remind us, in addition, that, even in the poet’s own mind, it was legitimate to treat the cantos of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” as autonomous poems that could be reshuffled and retitled. In a pedagogical environment, this historical fact is valuable, for it might be treated as an invitation to devise an alternative to teaching the unwieldy full poem: replicating Stevens’s example, teachers might set up an interactive exercise whereby students are asked to select their own two cantos from the poem in preparation of a class meeting, to give them titles, and to account for the logic of selection and combination. Such a tightly focused format might go down better with students, and lead to more engaged class discussion, than the necessarily exhausting detailed reading of the poem as a whole.

21A return to the May 1937 issue of Poetry affords another possible scenario. Here the selection principle was very different: its purpose was apparently to give a first taste of the series of variations under the poem’s eventual title. Twelve cantos were divided by Roman numerals, thereby building a more compact alternative series. The main critical and pedagogical interest in this version lies in the reduction and stringing of cantos. Since Stevens included most of the final cantos from the poem, we may suppose that he had completed the series and was free to make any selection he liked. Yet instead of choosing to show how his poem was launched (that is, how readers are used to encountering the poem nowadays, sometimes at the detriment of later parts in the sequence), he kept only three cantos from the poem’s first half. As a result, the twelve-canto version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” published in Poetry doesn’t start with the third-person description of “The man” who “bent over his guitar” and quarreled with those accusing him of falsifying “things as they are,” but with the first-person speaker of canto II announcing, “I cannot bring a world quite round” (Stevens, 1997 135). Then we jump to a number of disparate cantos (IX, XV, XVII, XVIII, XXIV) followed by the nearly intact final series (XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXIII). Remarkably also, what has become the most-cited canto from the final stretch of the poem (XXXII: “Throw away the lights, the definitions” 150) was the only canto omitted from this series of six. Whatever the reason for the omission (and the question lends itself well for collective speculation), the shorter, twelve-canto version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” is another welcome candidate for class discussion. By way of biographical context, the teacher can inform students of Stevens’s creative psychology as recorded on multiple occasions in his letters—how, on the one hand, he loved the feeling of being on a roll when he was writing a longer variational sequence, and how, on the other, he typically preferred a sense of freshness during composition without wishing to retrace earlier steps. These two characteristics may account for why he seemed to prefer the cantos most recently finished at the time of making his pick for Poetry.

22As suggested, the possibility of returning to the first partial publication of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” in two poetry magazines has the further advantage of inserting the text in the literary networks of modernism. In the London-based Twentieth Century Verse, for instance, Stevens’s poems received pride of place among verse contributions by being printed first, but they were also interestingly preceded by the editor Julian Symons’s plea “Against Surrealism”—a contextual element that is worth studying in light of Glen MacLeod’s argument that “The Man with the Blue Guitar” expressed Stevens’s own skepticism about the example of surrealism.4 A quick rundown of other poems in the same issue allows Stevens both to stand out and to mix in. Clearly, his is the only name in the table of contents that has come to be canonized. How many readers today know the writings of Richard Church, Herbert W. Corby, Keidrych Rhys, Geoffrey Parsons, Norman Hall, Gwendolen Stuart, Glyn Jones, H. B. Mallalieu, and G. W. Stonier? Stevens’s two titles also proclaim the role of ambitious and authoritative thinker about poetry more than those by other contributors (the only title that can stand alongside “Inaccessible Utopia” and “The Place of Poetry” is Stonier’s thematically germane “Poetry and the Individual”). And several other titles are useful for reminding us that, even in the middle of the politicized literary debates of the 1930s, a good many poets still turned out verse entitled “Poem for a Neighbour,” “Suburban Cemetery,” “Gull,” and “Two Preludes.”

23Something similar applies to the twelve-canto version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” in Harriet Monroe’s Chicago-based Poetry: there, too, Stevens’s contribution kicks off the issue; there, too, most other poets have been swallowed up by history (they have names like James Still, Madeleine Ruthven, David Schubert, Marian Storm, Lola Pergament); and there, too, several titles suggest personal lyrics rather than public programmatic stands. The main contextual gain in this case is in the prose contributions, with Morton Dauwen Zabel reflecting on “The Poetry of Unrest,” and both Kenneth Burke and Stanley Kunitz contributing reviews. Thanks to Poetry’s investment in a complete online archive, moreover, interested teachers and students have free access to the entire issue, which makes study of Stevens’s twelve-canto poem and its immediate literary context a logistically simple and didactically appealing option today.

24To make the transition to yet another starting point for “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” let’s go back one more time to the material printed book in 1937 as it steered readers’ attempts at interpretation. Besides the table of contents and the blurb, there is still a third paratextual feature of the volume that deserves to be highlighted. At the back appeared the following “designer’s note”:

Fig. 3. Designer’s note from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).

25The note concludes by saying,

In some of the lines appear unusual blank spaces and extra-wide spacing of certain crucial words. By this experimental device the author wishes to indicate a desirable pause or emphasis suggested by the sense. In observing these rests the reader may feel by so much the closer to the poet’s intention.

26When we look at pages 18 and 19, we notice the difference between them:

Fig. 4. Pages 18-19 from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).

27On the right, we find gaps in the layout in a way we might associate with several other modernist poets but not Stevens. The virgin reader of the 1937 Knopf edition was thus led to ponder seemingly significant formal features both by what that reader encountered on the page and by what the typesetter affirmed at the back. Little could that reader know that Stevens had never given any such instructions. “This is pure nonsense,” he protested.

I never said any such thing and have a horror of poetry pretending to be contemporaneous because of typographical queerness. [...] When I read the proofs I said that I thought that the only way of avoiding a very short line was to space between the words. This ordinary solution for an ordinary difficulty becomes “an experimental device.” (Stevens, 1996 326)

Opportunities Offered by an Autograph

28“Nonsense” and “queer,” perhaps, but one of the reasons why “The Man with the Blue Guitar” offers a rich case study for the present special issue is that it is the only long poem by Stevens allowing us also to engage in an extensive form of critique génétique. And what we then find, among many other things, is that in the autograph of the poem Stevens himself liked to space words in ways that occasionally resemble page 19 more than page 18. It so happens that in 1937, the director of libraries at what was then still called the University of Buffalo, a certain Mr. Abbott, sent out requests to a range of poets, asking them for manuscripts for the library’s collection. Stevens responded initially by explaining he didn’t normally have anything that would fit the purpose. “My way of writing things,” he said, “is to jot them down on scraps of paper and then to copy them off and, finally, to have them typed from the latest copy. The result is that the kind of manuscript one sees illustrated in the catalogues of the dealers does not exist in my case” (Stevens, 1996 316). Yet by September of the same year, he nevertheless obliged by sending the autograph of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” to Abbott, stipulating that the manuscript couldn’t be copied or published and should be treated as if it had “been thrown into the waste basket, except that you can keep it and show it to anyone that may be curious about that sort of thing” (325).

29The existence of this original autograph poses precisely the kind of critical, editorial, and pedagogical questions around which contributions to this special issue were invited. Critically, the question is, as so often with autographic pre-texts, what status and authority to attribute to these handwritten materials within scholarship on the poet. So far, they have stayed out of the picture, no doubt because they are accessible only to those with enough time and money to go study them closely in Buffalo, but also, probably, because their existence builds something of an exception in the case of Stevens, so that experts in his poetry have been little inclined to approach his work from the vantage point of genetic criticism. Yet in this one instance, at least, it is worth noticing how the existence of a workshop manuscript is quite germane to the aesthetic project of “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” This is, after all, the great cycle in which Stevens’s love of writing variations on a theme fully blossomed, and in which his belief in the desirability of aesthetic transformations of reality is programmatically affirmed. Genetic investigations of a poem’s autograph are exactly valuable insofar as they offer traces of the transformations the text itself underwent during the compositional process, and insofar as they stage the operations of a writer’s variation technique. Take the poem’s opening couplet, which sets the Picasso-inspired scene:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. (Stevens, 1997 135)

30In the autograph, we see Stevens considering the metrically identical but lexically more banal and acoustically very different-sounding alternative:

  • 5 All transcriptions from Stevens’s autograph at the University at Buffalo are my own.

The man bent over his guitar,
A tailor of sorts. The day was green.5

How might one proceed from there? Stevens considered formulating a stark color opposition:

The man had a blue guitar
But the day was green.

Then he tried out another tack:

How could he play when the day was green?

They said “You have a blue guitar.
You do not play things as they are.

The man replied I go my way
And what I play I cannot say

The last couplet in turn gave rise to an alternative attempt:

The man replied, “I go my way
And do not say what things I play.

Those replying couplets would eventually be dismissed as Stevens came to write:

The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.” (Stevens, 1997 135)

For the third line here, the autograph shows us Stevens again trying out possibilities. These he wrote underneath each other to compare results:

And they said then But play you must        turned
And they then answered Play you must

31It goes without saying that this little peek into Stevens’s compositional kitchen, which I’m limiting for practical purposes to the opening canto, isn’t just critically interesting but has a pedagogical appeal as well, especially if the autograph were to be brought into a creative writing class. One of the draws of this material is the ease with which students can grasp the main compositional patterns. Stevens embarks upon his series of variations and decides he wants four-beat couplets with occasional end-rhyme and sing-song effects. And he wants to pit the guitar-playing artist against his environment—both the green world that surrounds him and the realistically minded interlocutors from the community for which he makes music. How does one set up such a dialogue efficiently in terms of verbs, for instance? Does one interlocutor “say” this and the other “reply” that, and then the first one “say” this again, or do you want to bring in more synonyms for saying? How tricky is it to switch from the monosyllabic “say” to polysyllabic “reply” and “answer”? The system and the direction in which the poem is headed are so clear that students can be asked to debate the aesthetic gains and losses of the variants Stevens considered—and be tasked, in turn, to devise their own stanzas. Such a discussion, at once analytical and creative, can fall back on George Lensing’s discussion in Teaching Wallace Stevens, for Lensing uses the poem to highlight Stevens’s prosodic inventiveness—how the poet developed “a rhythm successfully freed of set stresses and syllables per line” and how this freedom served a “prophetic mode” that manifests as a sinuous form of “self-conscious interior discourse.” “The rhythm of Stevens’s later verse,” Lensing wants to impress on students, “is everywhere influenced by his pattern of appositional elaboration, the penchant to redefine, refine, and refashion. Ideas unfold in a fluidity like the waves of the sea, each like its predecessor but subtly different” (Lensing 109).

32If the critical and pedagogical potential of the manuscript version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” should be obvious, then, this still leaves us with the main crux: how to make the autograph available as an editor? There are both intrinsic and extrinsic challenges in this regard. Intrinsically, as so often, there is the sheer philological difficulty of decoding and reconstructing the traces left by Stevens. His autograph, now more than eighty-five years old, is in pencil and offers a palimpsest with many lines and words crossed out or erased with an eraser, and new text written over it. Much of this is, or has become, illegible, also because Stevens’s handwriting is notoriously indecipherable. What is more, variants tried out in the margins and at the bottom of pages are uncertainly connected to particular locations in the text, and their compositional chronology is at times impossible to determine. Years ago, I attempted to produce a transcript of the autograph in a coded format that would allow my technologically savvy colleagues at the University of Antwerp to produce a hypertext edition reproducing the various layers of the text. Unfortunately, however, I’ve had to set this project aside beyond the point where it makes sense to revive it, also because there is at least one major extrinsic challenge to contend with. Before anyone might hope to create an online hypertext edition of the poem, there is that forbidding note by Stevens in which he explicitly prohibits all copying and any form of publication. And even though there are indications that it might be possible to convince both the University at Buffalo and Stevens’s grandson, Peter Hanchak, of the value and legitimacy of such an academic, noncommercial project in the twenty-first century, it’s more doubtful one could also count on the collaboration of Penguin/Random House, which would be needed to reproduce the published poem as the final textual layer.

Different Books, Different Textual Environments

  • 6 I am grateful to Heather Cass White for flagging such dangers during the workshop organized in prep (...)

33So far, this panoramic survey has gone from the 1977 catalogue with illustrations by Hockney to the four or five “original” versions of the poem (the autograph, the first extracts in two magazines, the first book appearance in which an earlier book was in turn recycled and revised), most of which pose issues of accessibility in a pedagogical environment. But printed versions of The Man with the Blue Guitar (whether book or poem) of course do not stop at the 1937 publication by Knopf. Indeed, that book has more offshoots than one might expect. The difference between later versions is, for the most part, a matter of textual context: it’s a question of how the poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” finds itself surrounded by other texts and thus positioned within Stevens’s oeuvre. To what extent the following variations in book publication matter depends on the level of critical engagement. While researchers concerned with literary historiography and the reception of Stevens’s poetry are likely to be fascinated by the vagaries of material permutation traced below, the topic may lend itself less to teaching: in the classroom, too much emphasis on the history of The Man with the Blue Guitar as a book would distract from the hard work of reading the modernist poetry between its covers; and it would run the risk of adding further ballast to the surfeit of information with which students already struggle on a daily basis.6

34Apart from the 1937 Knopf volume, there are at least twelve other incarnations of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” in books devoted exclusively to Stevens’s poetry and published for the English-speaking market. I will focus on the differences some of these editions make. Here is, for instance, the third edition of The Man with the Blue Guitar, brought out by Knopf in 1952:

Fig. 5. Cover of The Man with the Blue Guitar, including Ideas of Order (1952).

35This cover immediately marks a major difference: by the early 1950s, Knopf chose to combine The Man with the Blue Guitar with its predecessor, Ideas of Order (1935/1936). Both books had gone out of print and were reset for the occasion (Stevens, 1996 731). The organization of this book is most interesting for its implied hierarchy: by then, it would appear that Knopf (and no doubt Stevens) saw the blue guitar poem as more iconic and important for the arc of the poet’s oeuvre than Ideas of Order had been. The hierarchy created a striking chronological reversal inside the volume as well, because the later book was printed before the earlier one. Thus, a novice reader in the early 1950s was invited to assimilate the musical variations of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” at length before finding in Ideas of Order a variety of shorter poems that already stage sundry difficulties of modern music making, from “Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz” to “The Idea of Order at Key West” (with its singing woman along the shore), the antiquated music of Brahms in “Anglais Mort à Florence,” or the “skreaking and skrittering” of post-Keatsian grackles in “Autumn Refrain” (Stevens, 1997 129). The same hypothetical reader might have wondered also whether, after struggling for a few hours to get through “Owl’s Clover,” readers weren’t better served by a succinct and elliptical lyrical response to the Great Depression such as “Mozart, 1935” from the earlier volume.

36A very different reshuffling took place for the Selected Poems published by Faber and Faber only one year later, in early 1953. This was Stevens’s own selection for the overseas market, one that would shape the reception of his work for decades to come outside the United States—from the British Isles and Continental Europe all the way to Australia. For scholars interested in the international reception of “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” it is important to note, then, that the poem was included in its entirety in this selected volume, but also how it was surrounded there. Readers of the Faber edition encountered the text immediately after two poems from Harmonium: “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” (another set of variations) and “Tea.” And they continued by reading “The Men That Are Falling” before they encountered poems from Ideas of Order. In making his selection for Faber, in other words, Stevens didn’t feel the urge to restore compositional chronology: he placed “The Man with the Blue Guitar” as if it had been the direct successor to Harmonium. The implied message to readers outside North America developing a grasp on Stevens’s writings seems to have been that there were the early poems and then the poet took a new start in the mid-thirties by writing “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”

Fig. 6. Title page of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1954).

37When subsequently Stevens gave in to Knopf’s longtime pleas for putting together a Collected Poems, he followed through on a decision he had already taken for Faber’s selection: there he had decided against including “Owl’s Clover.” Now he went a step further. He excluded “Owl’s Clover” altogether from the 1954 Collected Poems that would become the main critical reference for more than forty years. The suppression was the one momentous form of self-censorship Stevens practiced throughout his career as a published poet. For decades to come, The Man with the Blue Guitar lived on as a set of merely three texts: the very long title poem followed by two brief poems. This had an unmistakable effect on the depoliticization and dehistoricization of “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” By taking away the more overtly political, less abstracted “Owl’s Clover” as an equally hefty companion piece, the Eisenhower-era Stevens came to present his variations on the blue guitar as a composition with a more generally modernist slant than it had seemed in the mid-1930s. This shift from a poet responding to the urgent political crises of his day—primarily the Great Depression and Second World War—to one who came to fit the “cold war quietism and retreat” embodied by an attenuated sort of New Criticism is at the heart of James Longenbach’s Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things (278). In the context of a course set up to contrast poetry from before and after the Second World War, Stevens’s revisionism of his own career is easily elaborated, moreover, through the wealth of archival material provided by Alan Filreis in Wallace Stevens and the Actual World and Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism.

38For readers eager to deepen their understanding of Stevens’s work in the wake of the poet’s demise in 1955, to be sure, there is also Opus Posthumous as edited by Samuel French Morse in 1957. That collection made the original 1936 version of Owl’s Clover critically available again, as well as, for the first time, three discarded cantos from the autograph of “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” As a result, Opus Posthumous was the first anthology to conjure up the out-of-print 1937 book The Man with the Blue Guitar, albeit in the most indirect manner possible: it turned the telescope exclusively toward texts that had orbited around that book without ever having been included in it.

Fig. 7. Cover of Poems by Wallace Stevens (1959).

39Morse also edited the undeservedly forgotten Poems by Wallace Stevens for Vintage Books in 1959. Two aspects about this publication are nevertheless worth recalling. One is that this was the first selection of Stevens’s poetry to attempt a chronological presentation of all poetry. Consequently, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” suddenly found itself introduced, rather than followed, by the poet’s response to the Spanish Civil War in “The Men That Are Falling,” and it segued for the first time into a poem from Parts of a World (1942), “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts.” The other notable aspect is that this edition reached a much wider American readership during the first decade after Stevens’s death than The Collected Poems did. Whereas the latter, only available in hardback, sold some 21,000 copies in the first ten years, the Vintage paperback sold 185,000 copies during roughly the same period (Edelstein 113, 116-117, 129-130). Thus, the largest readership by far from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties became acquainted with “The Man with the Blue Guitar” as part of a selected volume of chronologically organized poems. To these readers, all traces of the way Stevens had structured and presented his 1937 book had been wiped out. This was analogous to the Faber selection outside the US, from which it differed crucially in not suggesting that “The Man with the Blue Guitar” had followed directly upon the poems collected in Harmonium.

Fig. 8. Cover of The Palm at the End of the Mind (1971).

40The 1971 selection produced by Holly Stevens for Knopf under the title The Palm at the End of the Mind revived the Vintage practice. Here again the anthology was organized as chronologically as possible, with “The Man with the Blue Guitar” preceded by “The Men That Are Falling” and followed, this time, by “A Thought Revolved” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts.”

41We should recall in passing Hockney’s catalogue from 1977 as the next reincarnation of the poem (a highly limited edition this time, contextualized entirely in terms of its relevance to the twentieth-century history of the visual arts and its potential for stimulating artistic creativity) and briefly note Milton Bates’s revised and corrected edition of Opus Posthumous in 1989. Like Morse, Bates included the long 1936 version of Owl’s Clover, but he managed to double the unpublished cantos from the autograph of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” from three to six.

42Helen Vendler’s selection for Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets in 1993 might be regarded as an example of additional transformations that occurred when further anthologies were put together for the American market. Here the selected poems were cherrypicked from the respective volumes in the sequence in which they were originally printed (no chronological reorganization) and occasionally cut down to size. Thus, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” was reduced to twenty-three cantos and directly preceded by “A Postcard from the Volcano.” For the history of modernist canonization, it’s relevant that Vendler went about her selection of cantos very differently from the poet when he made his pick for Poetry: contrary to Stevens, she started by including the first ten cantos in full, and then continued by cutting cantos left and right without giving special weight to the very late cantos while yet retaining canto XXXII (“Throw away the lights, the definitions”).

Fig. 9. Cover of the Library of America edition of Collected Poetry and Prose (1997).

43The volume that has come to supersede all previous editions in Stevens scholarship, the 1997 Library of America edition of the Collected Poetry and Prose, effects the final important shift: for this gathering, the editors, Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson, overruled Stevens’s wishes as laid down by the Collected Poems and returned to all the original book publications. As a result, the reader was familiarized again, after half a century, with the 1937 cluster of four poems from The Man with the Blue Guitar, including the shorter version of “Owl’s Clover.” The original set of poems was supplemented in the endnotes, moreover, by the original jacket statement as well as five of the six discarded cantos from the autograph of “The Man with the Blue Guitar”—the other canto being separated off and placed in a section called “Uncollected Poems” under the title “Communications of Meaning.”

Exemplary Translations

44The effect of differences in layout comes to the fore, finally, when we extend the book life of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” into other languages as well. This is not the place to attempt an exhaustive overview of the poem in translation, so let’s stick to two conspicuous instances. Olivier Amiel’s monolingual edition for Michel Chandeigne, L’Homme à la guitare bleue (1989), is interesting not only for its selection principle (it retains “The Man with the Blue Guitar” together with “A Thought Revolved” and “The Men That Are Falling,” but dumps “Owl’s Clover”), as well as for the visual and haptic pleasure of the blue abstract design introducing the three poems, but especially for the layout of the cantos, demonstrated here:

Fig. 10. Pages 24-25 of L’Homme à la guitare bleue (1989).

45This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only version of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” in which the cantos are reprinted individually from the bottom of the page up, like a rising and falling statistical bar graph, rather than from the top down or run together as an ongoing series. The disruption of reading habits is a potential eye-opener at the structural level: more than in other editions, this layout draws our attention to the way Stevens’s variations range in length between four and eight couplets, and constantly change the number of couplets along the way. This restores a casualness of improvisation not usually highlighted in other publications of the poem.

Fig. 11. Cover of the double German translation of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (1995), including an image of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist Succession Picasso – Sabam Belgium 2024)

46My final example comes in two guises, the first of which is itself triple in shape. A German translation of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” published in 1995 by Schirmer/Mosel enacts the principle of textual fluidity within one and the same book. It offers more than just a bilingual edition in which each canto appears on the lefthand page and faces a German translation on the right: it then goes on to provide a second German translation as well. The famous writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger signed off for the first, juxtaposed translation, which is presented as a “poetic rendering,” while Karin Graf is recorded as having been “responsible for” the second translation, called an “interlinear version.” That version does everything it can to translate the poem as literally as possible and throws in a didactic tool in the form of footnotes offering translations of all the explanations about words and phrases that Stevens gave when Renato Poggioli was working on his own Italian translation in 1953 (see especially Stevens, 1996 783-784). Thus, the German reader of this book is invited to let meanings arise fluidly in the process of traveling between the original poem, its poetic translation, a literal translation, and several explanatory footnotes—a process that virtualizes the poem almost completely and places it in a signifying abyss. Nor did the abyss stop spinning after the appearance of the book, for the poetic translation was in turn recycled sixteen years later, with very slight changes and now presented as if it had been the work of Enzensberger and Graf together, in a copious selection of Stevens’s poetry produced by six different translators (most of them famous German writers in their own right). In this anthology, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” returned as the only poem retained from the 1937 book in which it originally appeared. By borrowing Hockney’s image discussed earlier for the cover, it is the edition that probably goes farthest in suggesting the centrality of that long poem to Stevens’s entire oeuvre.

Coda: Reaffirming Textual Fluidity

47It would be easy to conclude this survey by claiming my analysis has come full circle (from Hockney to Hockney), but, as we know by now, closing the circle is not what “The Man with the Blue Guitar” invites us to do. Nor has it been my goal in making an argument against impermeable self-identity and for fluid textual proliferation. “I cannot bring a world quite round,” Stevens’s speaker announces early in the poem (Stevens, 1997 135). When in canto XII he then imagines not just a single guitar but an entire “orchestra,” he attests to the confusion caused by “The whirling noise // Of a multitude.” At the same time, the plight of the synecdochizing artist returns, for the whirling noise in turn “dwindles [...] / To his breath that lies awake at night.” Ultimately, all these fluid textual and musical multitudes emanate from, or converge upon, the artist’s insomniac imagination and trigger a crucial question:

                                    Where
Do I begin and end? And where,

As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentously declares

Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else. (140)

48The tension evoked here between self and world, self and other, is, at heart, what drives the endless production of transformations—of (authorial) self into art, of art into experience, of experience into pedagogy, criticism, textual editing, and translation, ultimately looping back into the (readerly) self. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a single way of beginning and ending “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” Every strumming of the blue guitar Wallace Stevens bequeathed to us is uniquely of its own moment.


NB. The first draft of the current article was written in the wake of a Fellowship-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study during the academic year 2016-2017.

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Bibliographie

AMIRAN, Minda Rae. “Teaching Stevens in Israel: The Spiral of the Seasons.” The Wallace Stevens Journal, vol. 41, no. 2, 2017, p. 170-176.

BAUMAN, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.

BRYANT, John. The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

COOK, Eleanor. A Reader’s Guide to Wallace Stevens. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

DOYLE, Charles. “Teaching Wallace Stevens: The Relations between Poetry and Painting.” Teaching Wallace Stevens: Practical Essays. Eds. John N. Serio and B. J. Leggett. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994, p. 192-203.

EDELSTEIN, J. M. Wallace Stevens: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

FILREIS, Alan. Wallace Stevens and the Actual World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

FILREIS, Alan. Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

HOCKNEY, David, and Wallace STEVENS. The Blue Guitar; The Man with the Blue Guitar. London: Petersburg Press, 1977.

LENSING, George S. “Stevens’s Prosody.” Teaching Wallace Stevens: Practical Essays. Eds. John N. Serio and B. J. Leggett. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994, p. 100-118.

LONGENBACH, James. Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

MACLEOD, Glen. Wallace Stevens and Modern Art: From the Armory Show to Abstract Expressionism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

ONORATO, Rina S., and John C. TURNER. “Fluidity in the self-concept: the shift from personal to social identity.” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 34, 2004, p. 257-278.

RAGG, Edward. Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

STEVENS, Wallace. Owl’s Clover. New York: The Alcestis Press, 1936.

STEVENS, Wallace. The Man with the Blue Guitar & other poems. New York: Knopf, 1937.

STEVENS, Wallace. The Man with the Blue Guitar, Including Ideas of Order. New York: Knopf, 1952.

STEVENS, Wallace. Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens. London: Faber & Faber, 1953.

STEVENS, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1954.

STEVENS, Wallace. Opus Posthumous. Ed. Samuel French Morse. New York: Knopf, 1957.

STEVENS, Wallace. Poems by Wallace Stevens. Ed. Samuel French Morse. New York: Vintage Books, 1959.

STEVENS, Wallace. The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play. Ed. Holly Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1971.

STEVENS, Wallace. Opus Posthumous. Ed. Milton J. Bates. New York: Knopf, 1989a.

STEVENS, Wallace. L’Homme à la guitare bleue. Translated by Olivier Amiel. Paris: Michel Chandeigne, 1989b.

STEVENS, Wallace. Poems. Ed. Helen Vendler. New York: Knopf, 1993.

STEVENS, Wallace. Der Mann mit der blauen Gitarre / The Man with the Blue Guitar. Translated by Karin Graf and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 1995.

STEVENS, Wallace. Letters of Wallace Stevens. Ed. Holly Stevens. Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

STEVENS, Wallace. Collected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson. New York: Library of America, 1997.

STEVENS, Wallace. Hellwach, am Rande des Schlafs: Gedichte. Ed. Joachim Sartorius. Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2011.

STREIM, Alex, and Zachary TAVLIN. “Casting for Keener Sounds: How to Make Difficult Poetry Fun Again.” The Wallace Stevens Journal, vol. 41, no. 2, 2017, p. 235-244.

TACIKOWSKI, Pawel, Jens FUST, and H. Henrik EHRSSON. “Fluidity of gender identity induced by illusory body-sex change.” Scientific Reports 10, 2020.

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Notes

1 Throughout this contribution, the term most common in Stevens criticism—“canto”—will be used to refer to the thirty-three sections of the poem preceded by a Roman numeral. I will distinguish as much as possible between the poem’s title (in quotation marks) and the eponymous book’s title (in italics), though some ambiguity will be unavoidable, precisely because the poem’s afterlife can’t be disentangled systematically from the book’s. The subtitle of the current essay highlights the book rather than the poem because the primary focus of this special issue is on multiple versions of poetry books.

2 On the inside of the book’s dust cover jacket, a brief note by Hockney explains that the etchings “were not conceived as literal illustrations of the poem but as an interpretation of its themes in visual terms. Like the poem, they are about transformations within art as well as the relation between reality and the imagination, so these are pictures within pictures and different styles of representation juxtaposed and reflected and dissolved within the same frame.”

3 The eighth etching, “In a Chiaroscuro,” is missing from MoMA’s online portfolio. The set may be viewed both as a group and individually magnified in high resolution. The Art Institute of Chicago displays only twelve of the twenty etchings.

4 See the issue’s table of contents as included on the Modernist Magazines Project, as well as MacLeod 57-78.

5 All transcriptions from Stevens’s autograph at the University at Buffalo are my own.

6 I am grateful to Heather Cass White for flagging such dangers during the workshop organized in preparation of the current special issue.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Cover of The Man with the Blue Guitar & other poems (1937).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Légende Fig. 2. Table of contents from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 66k
Légende Fig. 3. Designer’s note from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Légende Fig. 4. Pages 18-19 from The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 91k
Légende Fig. 5. Cover of The Man with the Blue Guitar, including Ideas of Order (1952).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 99k
Légende Fig. 6. Title page of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1954).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 115k
Légende Fig. 7. Cover of Poems by Wallace Stevens (1959).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 55k
Légende Fig. 8. Cover of The Palm at the End of the Mind (1971).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 41k
Légende Fig. 9. Cover of the Library of America edition of Collected Poetry and Prose (1997).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 35k
Légende Fig. 10. Pages 24-25 of L’Homme à la guitare bleue (1989).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 50k
Légende Fig. 11. Cover of the double German translation of “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (1995), including an image of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist Succession Picasso – Sabam Belgium 2024)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/docannexe/image/23030/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 87k
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Référence électronique

Bart Eeckhout, « Composed for Solo Guitar or String Orchestra? The Fluid Incarnations and Pedagogical Opportunities of Wallace Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar »Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2024, consulté le 12 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/23030 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11x32

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Bart Eeckhout

University of Antwerp

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