Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


It is the aim of this study to challenge the traditionalist reading of the modern long poem by closely reading the long poems of a reputedly lyric poet--Wallace Stevens. Critics of his long pieces have recurrently interpreted him as perpetuating the chain of strong (male) lyric poets from Wordsworth to Williams. Their familiarity with the Romantic song of the self has led them to institute a blanket reading of the modernist long poem as an extended lyric.;Close readings of Stevens' long poems show how his diverge radically from those of his predecessors. First, Stevens exorcised himself from the tradition of the extended lyric, which he did when he wrote "The Comedian as the Letter C"--a parodic piece that pays tribute to the tradition as it rejects it. By abandoning his controlled, autobiographical context for his lyrical epic of consciousness, his later long poems begin to enter a more threatening (because of their generic openness) interdiscursive context dominated by the aberrant, which is later troped as the fat girl. His abandonment of the "golden centre" is, however, a slow process marked by two distinct phases: Stevens as a Rousseauistic interpreter, who still yearns for the consolations of resolution and meaning despite the poverty of the waste of words in which he wanders ("Like Decorations," "Owl's Clover," "Blue Guitar"); and Stevens as a Nietzschian interpreter, who is yet a scholar of one candle but who throws himself fully into the disseminative play of language without security ("Notes" is pivotal, particularly in teaching Stevens the beauty of the abstract ideal ("Credences of Summer"), of change ("The Auroras), and of pleasure ("An Ordinary Evening")).;Stevens teaches us that the generic instability of the long poem hinges on the imaginative violence of the lyric voice in its attempt to sustain its potency in an equally violent, yet radically different, disseminative context. The long poem is a (non)genre, whose power stems from its radical undecidability: both/neither lyric and narrative, masculine and feminine. It situates the reader (un)comfortably in the cushiony trap of the fat girl's folds. By reading for difference (not unification)--the long poem as woman and woman as writing--we can achieve a greater understanding of Stevens' long poems as well as of this (non)genre.



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