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Wallace Stevens, Poetry, and France

Juliette Utard
Bart Eeckhout
Lisa Goldfarb


A “Special Relation”? Stevens’ French, American English, and the Creolization of Modern Poetry

Juliette Utard

Texte intégral

Reality is a cliché
From which we escape by metaphor
It is only au pays de la métaphore
Qu’on est poète.
— Wallace Stevens, Adagia (CPP, 920)

Avant—Propos. You must help me with this, Bowl.
My knowledge of French is not absolutely penetrating.
— Wallace Stevens, Bowl, Cat, and Broomstick (CPP, 633)

Pach Brothers Photo of Wallace Stevens, New York, c. 1940

Pach Brothers Photo of Wallace Stevens, New York, c. 1940


  • 1 T. S. Eliot, “What France Means to You,” p. 94.

1In his 1944 essay “What France Means to You,” which appeared in La France libre during France’s Nazi occupation, T. S. Eliot wrote that “For several years before I went there, what France had meant to me was, above all things, Poetry.”1 One way or another, the essays gathered in this volume all seek to address what France meant to Stevens, and how (or to what extent) it shaped his poetry. Scholars have long acknowledged Stevens’ poetic entanglement with France, picking up on his career-long importation of French nouns and “latined phrase [s]” (CPP, 146), from the early titles (the posthumously published “Carnet de Voyage,” or the much-anthologized, tongue-twisting “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle”) persistently to the late poems, where “odd fleurettes” and “queer chapeaux” trickle on as “part of a fraicheur, inaccessible” (CPP, 456-457). In this first book-length inquiry into what Stevens once called “a special relation” (Letters, 699), Wallace Stevens, Poetry, and France: “Au pays de la métaphore” offers to gauge a triangular (not binary) relationship between a poet and a country, with poetry at its center.

  • 2 L. Beckett, Wallace Stevens, p. 209.

2Readers of the following chapters may find that Lucy Beckett’s statement in the 1970s that Stevens was “throughout his life devoted to the French language and to the idea of France […] but neither the theory nor the practice of French poetry left any considerable mark on his work”2 is now disputed by several, not to say most, of the authors whose essays are gathered here. A birthmark, or a stamp, does in fact continue to throb and glow in the poems, whether we choose to regard it as a defect or a beauty like that other “mark” in Hawthorne’s tale; it has no doubt affected the reception of Stevens’ work more than has perhaps been recognized before, casting an ambivalent aura upon his Americanness.

  • 3 Redding is thinking of William York Tindall, Roy Harvey Pearce, Joseph Riddel, and Harold Bloom. Se (...)
  • 4 R. Gilbert, “Whitman and Stevens: Certain Phenomena of Sound,” p. 70.

3Interestingly, for many years Stevens’ Francocentrism caused him to be perceived as the most European of American poets, while today, the growing consensus is that Stevens’ Americanness is actually deepened, not diminished, by his exotic loanwords. “The Americanization of Stevens’ literary context,” which Patrick Redding reminds us “was largely the achievement of mid-century critics,”3 springs up again in Roger Gilbert’s recent remark that “Stevens’ vaunted Francophilia often masks a deep Americanness.”4 What emerges differently from the chapters that follow is perhaps their common desire to rework these longstanding assumptions, and probe far into their aesthetic and political implications, as when Maureen McLane deftly argues that Stevens repeatedly “addresse [d] the question of being ‘native’ in English partly via French”; or when Tony Sharpe later contends that his “use of French and his recourse to France were a function of his being American, and make most sense within that context.”

4Unlike Eliot—and Samuel Beckett for that matter—Stevens never chose to compose entire poems in French, though he did occasionally translate poems by Du Bellay and Jean Le Roy into English. Neither did he ever set foot in France, as has too often been observed for me to dwell on again here. Rather, and most characteristically, Stevens constantly interlaced his American “twang” with snippets of French and to a lesser extent other languages that, I would argue, creolized his poetry.

5 In the above-quoted epigraph “Reality is a cliché…,” Stevens’ syntax typically oversteps the boundaries between languages (most forcibly here, by beginning a restrictive clause in English and completing it in French, “It is only… que”); “metaphor” morphs into “métaphore,” whose appended acute accent and final “e” affect the rhythm, sound, and rhyming of the quatrain, exacerbating (not erasing) the differences between the two. Meanwhile, to place the French word “métaphore” (with its stressed third syllable) on the tip of an American tongue (to paraphrase Nabokov) is to make way for “sound’s substance” (CPP, 694); to carry language not just above (meta) but to the fore (phore), taking a trip of three steps up the palate to reach, at three, for the impossibly raspy French [r], only to release “heavenly labials” into a world of gurgling “gutturals” (CPP, 6).

  • 5 L. M. Jenkins, “Beach Boys: Stevens, Whitman, and Franco-American Modernism,” p. 53.
  • 6 E. Cook, Poetry, Word-Play, and Word-War in Wallace Stevens, p. 183.
  • 7 C. Bernstein, My Way: Speeches and Poems, p. 113.

6Whitman, of course, had been saluting the world en français dans le texte (in “Salut au monde,” “Old Feuillage,” and again in the penultimate line of “For You, O Democracy,” “O democracy, to serve you ma femme!”) long before Stevens started drawing on his own treasure house of languages. As Lee Jenkins compellingly argues in the “Stevens and Whitman” special issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal, French words actually “collapse the literary-historical binary […] between Whitman and Stevens as the representatives of indigenous and of imported languages of American poetry.”5 Stevens’ “pays de la métaphore” is a “crossing-place” if there ever was one (to use Eleanor Cook’s word),6 never an isolated (id) entity “carved up by national borders” (as Charles Bernstein puts it)7 but rather a relational “constellation / Of patches and of pitches, / Not in a single world” (CPP, 476), a teeming archipelago in the image of the Florida Keys that equally nurtured his poetic imagination.

  • 8 See K. Van Haesendonck, “An Alternative to the Classical Eurocentric Way of Thinking,” interview by (...)

7Édouard Glissant’s archipelagic thinking ( “clearly an alternative to the classical old eurocentric way of thinking,” as Kristian Van Haesendonck aptly summarizes)8 might well shed light on many more of Stevens’ poems than just “July Mountain”:

We live in a constellation
Of patches and of pitches,
Not in a single world,
In things said well in music,
On the piano, and in speech,
As in a page of poetry— (CPP, 476)

  • 9 See É. Glissant, “The Unforeseeable Diversity of the World,” p. 290. The sentence is quoted as an e (...)
  • 10 É. Glissant, Introduction à une poétique du divers, p. 18.

8“My proposition is that today the whole world is becoming an archipelago and becoming creolized,” Glissant writes, in an essay entitled “The Unforeseeable Diversity of the World” that is at the back of a recently published collective volume entitled Creolizing Europe (2015), which tests the applicability of the concept of creolization outside the Caribbean.9 Creolization, one might add, was defined by Glissant in the 1990s as a dynamic process, a continuous intermixing of roots with unpredictable effects (creolization as such is distinct from the more predictable métissage, and the more rigid créolité): “Creolization requires that the heterogeneous elements brought to relation with each other ‘intervalorize one another’” [La créolisation exige que les éléments hétérogènes mis en relation “s’intervalorisent”]—something that seems highly applicable to Stevens’ baroque poetic polyglotisms.10

  • 11 L. M. Jenkins, op. cit., p. 54.
  • 12 The phrase is borrowed from Aurore Clavier’s chapter.
  • 13 See É. Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi (p. 118).

9Presumably, what the essays assembled here most urgently signal is that it is time we complicated what Jenkins calls the “‘native’/‘Euro-literary’ binary,” and acknowledged at last, as she does, that “French symbolism and American poetry alike are the products of transatlantic circuits of exchange.”11 Stevens’ French is always a composite (not a single entity frozen in time). His “tangle of tongues”12 weaving together American English and “a sort of French” (to take up a phrase in Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! that Glissant amply comments on)13 turns out to include not just different national tongues, but different kinds of French as well—the highbrow and the lowbrow, the standard and the regional, the colonial and the postcolonial, the medieval and the contemporary, the vernacular and the specialized—that mutually affect and inflect one another.

  • 14 See L. M. Steinman, “Unanticipated Readers.”

10Surely, what France meant to Stevens before and after the onset of World War II couldn’t possibly be the same thing; and indeed, several of the contributors to this volume conduct illuminating historical readings that track down time-specific variations in Stevens’ French affinities. One thread that runs through several essays yet emerged mostly in retrospect as a kind of Jamesian “figure in the carpet” is the legacy of colonial France, and how the conservative politics that supported it far into the previous century crossed over in Stevens’ poetry, only to be picked up by a younger generation of African American writers and other “Unanticipated Readers,” as Lisa Steinman calls them elsewhere.14

11“A crucial way Stevens’ French signals differently from Eliot’s and Pound’s is that it moves through what we might call the hauntology of black vernacular,” McLane reflects. Again, this is something that Whitman would hardly have disavowed: his Primer is rife with praises of the American idiom as “the most capacious vital tongue of all,” an “enormous treasure house,” a “granary”

chock full of so many contributions from the north and from the south, from Scandinavia, from Greece and Rome—from Spaniards, Italians, and the French—that its own sturdy home-dated Angles-bred words have long been outnumbered by the foreigners whom they lead—which is all good enough, and indeed must be.

  • 15 W. Whitman, “An American Primer,” The Atlantic, April 1904. See (...)

12“The black dialect,” Whitman writes, “furnishes hundreds of outré words” and, as such, “has hints of the future theory of the modification of all the words of the English language, for musical purposes, for a native grand opera in America” to which it vitally contributes.15

  • 16 C. Bernstein, op. cit., p. 132.

13That “a process of Creolization is underway” (as Bernstein claims in his chapter “Poetics of the Americas”)16 may after all be true even of Stevens’ poetry, whose colonial and postcolonial resonances have yet to be fully sounded. The connections that Bernstein draws between “the nonstandard language practices of the radical modernists,” on the one hand, and “the dialect and vernacular practices of African American poets,” on the other, a classic case of “repression and recovery” as Cary Nelson defines it, might indeed help reappraise the “vast ventriloquism” of Stevens’ Francophony (CPP, 452):

  • 17 Ibid., p. 119-120.

As our literary history is usually told, the nonstandard language practices of the radical modernists, and their descendants, are not linked to the dialect and vernacular practices of African American poets. But the construction of a vernacular poetry was a major project for many poets, black and white, during the modernist period, and the fact that these developments often took place without reference to each other—the fact of the color line—should not now obscure their intimate formal and sociohistorical connection.17

14 Tracking down the “ghostly demarcations” of African American voices in Stevens’ poems may yet yield many more twists. What are we to make, for instance, of “Banjo Boomer,” one of Stevens’ last poems, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in March 1955 and only posthumously collected, whose sounds are (untypically for Stevens) those of a ditty? Obviously, an African American “banjo” booms (CPP, 475) where a “blue guitar” used to twang (CPP, 138). In the postwar decade of baby (rather than banjo) boomers, the title sounds unambiguously generative, if vaguely threatening. While it would be too much to read a DuBoisian “double-consciousness” into the poem’s opening affirmation that “The mulberry is a double tree,” something of Pyramus and Thisbe’s impossible love (once upon a time “shade [d] awhile” by a mulberry tree) does make itself heard in this much-knotted family tree that branches off tragically into Ovid’s Metamorphoses and comically into Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: “The mulberry is a double tree. / Mulberry, shade me, shade me awhile. // A white, pink, purple berry tree, / A very dark-leaved berry tree. / Mulberry, shade me, shade me awhile” (CPP, 475). What exactly was Stevens “knotting there,” one might ask in the words of Melville’s Captain Delano? And like the old sailor on the San Dominick, I am tempted to answer, at least for now: “For someone else to undo.”


15The opening section of the present collection of essays, “Stevens’ Uses of French,” undertakes the task of broadening and refining longstanding assumptions about Stevens’ love affair with French. Investigating the whole gamut of what one might call the effects of Frenchness in the poems, the chapters rework the linguistic borders of Romance and Anglo-Saxon languages, exploring a kind of lexical warp in between.

16Antoine Cazé’s “‘Luminous Traversing’: Stevens’ Near French and the Vagaries of Translation” draws on Translation Theory to underline the challenges raised by translating into French the writings of a poet who insisted that “French and English constitute a single language” (CPP, 914). Cazé proposes a new reading of the aphorism as affirming the singularity (not the similarity) of French and English, and creatively devises the concept of “Near French” to underscore Stevens’ linguistic approximations and appropriations within his own American vernacular, a “luminous traversing” that “worries the distance” between the two languages.

17 Another kind of traversing takes place in Lisa Goldfarb’s essay, “Thinking through the Senses: Stevens and Valéry (with Echoes of Proust),” which provides a fresh appraisal of Stevens’ “theory / Of poetry [as] the theory of life” (CPP, 415). Building on her previous work on Stevens and Valéry, Goldfarb this time delineates the underlying affinities between the two poets’ theoretical understanding of the senses and sensuality as decisive “parameters” of knowledge. Correcting and complementing readings of Stevens as a cerebral poet, Goldfarb’s chapter culminates in a close examination of “ADish of Peaches in Russia”—a poem that echoes Proust’s soaked madeleine epiphany even as it “absorbs” Joachim Du Bellay’s nostalgic praise for native Anjou wines—thus placing the peaches on the readers’ “tingling tongues” (CPP, 44) as an experience of the “whole body” (CPP, 206).

18That Stevens’ use of French is often disruptively comedic and theatrical is the pith of Aurore Clavier’s argument. In “‘The lingua franca et jocundissima’: The Comedian as a French Speaker,” Clavier unfurls Stevens’ poetic comedy around Crispin (its central figure) before ushering in a “motley pageant” of comic personae—Scapin, Sganarelle, Scaramouche, and, by way of a typically grotesque “gasconade of drums” (CPP, 26), Edmond Rostand’s hypereloquent Cyrano de Bergerac. These enable (and dramatize) a bathetic crossing between Shakespeare’s tongue and Molière’s, ultimately providing “antidotes to the cultural authority and ‘flambeaued manner’ of French.”

19Further complicating accounts of Stevens’ Francophilia, Lisa Steinman in “Poetic Sanctions: Stevens’French as the Language of Love and Law” identifies two poles: not just the (rather expected) pole of love and sensuality, characterized by the erotically charged loanwords peppered across Stevens’ oeuvre ( “rendezvous,” “gallant,” “liaison,” and many more), but also the pole of law and government, whose English vocabulary is (historically) heavily indebted to French. While Stevens claimed he used French simply “for the pleasure that it gives” (Letters, 792), he also connected its lexical heritage with regulation and order, a residual effect perhaps of his everyday life as a lawyer that continued to bear on the poems. Stevens’French, then, bespeaks both culture and policing, love and law, typically “sanctioning” the destabilization of any preexisting categories.

20The second cluster of chapters, entitled “Stevens’ Poetic Legacy across the Atlantic,” examines how Stevens’ poetry “reverberates, productively and problematically” (Maureen McLane) in the writings of poets in Europe and the United States. Rather than attempt to get (or make) anything “straight,” all four chapters deliberately espouse the crooked, the queer, or the tangential to chart English-language poets’ ambivalent responses to Stevens’ Francophilia—a new and compelling topic.

21 McLane’s poetic essay, “Hoobla-hoo and Hullabaloo: Divagations with Stevens,” adopts (and adapts) the moods of Baudelairean flânerie and Mallarméan divagation to sift through a string of early poems, as well as her own relation to Stevens as a poet herself and a Romanticist. Along the way, McLane draws our attention to the spectral presence of African American voices, pausing to wonder at their “bizarre encapsulation of Stevens’ negritude.” Should Stevens’ “forays into, raids on, black vernacular” be understood as instances of his Francophone ventriloquism or rather, as she suggests, as a “hypermarked ‘American’ corrective”? Contrasting “Stevens’ Negroes” with both Williams’ and Baudelaire’s, McLane blazes a new trail in the study of Stevens’ Francophone politics, and brings in the voices of young African American poets who talked back to Stevens, before delivering her own homage in the form of two poems (one of which is published here for the first time).

22Stevens returns as a ghost (not a host) haunting the cafés and museums of Paris in the late 1950s, in Bart Eeckhout’s exploratory chapter, “AQueer Visit to Paris: Richard Howard’s Encounter with Stevens on French Soil,” which provides an extended, far-reaching commentary on Richard Howard’s epistolary poem “Even in Paris” (1989). In it, Howard—an acclaimed poet, critic, and translator of Roland Barthes and Baudelaire, among many others—stages a fictional encounter between young Richard, the speaker, and an ageing Wallace Stevens who, during the visit, indulges in variously incongruous rituals as an incognito “American in Paris.” Stevens’ fictionalized visit to Paris (or should we call it a visitation?), is thus queered through the campy web of gossiping friends spun around Richard, his friend Ivo, and their mutual friend in the United States to whom the letters are addressed. Beyond the literary joke, Eeckhout suggests that the narrative poem—incidentally, a poetic variation on the emerging genre of fictional biography—might read as a testing ground for Howard’s poetics, perhaps even as his own “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.”

23In “Parents ‘in the French Sense’: Stevens and Louis Zukofsky,” Xavier Kalck digs into the relational poetics that gave Stevens a central, though belated, role in Zukofsky’s poetic family tree. Looking at Zukofsky’s 1971 lecture “For Wallace Stevens” (his last piece of critical prose), Kalck reopens the Stevens-versus-Pound debate and eschews the usual limitations of influence studies by making way for a “generational overlap” that is neither vertical nor horizontal. Fleshing out the parallels drawn by Zukofsky between Stevens’ poetry and his own, the chapter dwells first on the French parentage of “The Lack of Repose,” a poem that features prominently in the lecture, before examining Zukofsky’s selection of poems (by Stevens and himself) where genealogy and foreign idioms once again intersect.

24 In the closing chapter of this section, “Bad Boy for Good: Baudelaire in Stevens and Bishop,” Angus Cleghorn recounts how Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop both turned to Baudelaire to investigate (and eventually rekindle) the sublime in their “embodied poetics of the earth.” Stevens’ “Esthétique du Mal” and Bishop’s “Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box” provide the main groundwork for Cleghorn’s comparative study of Baudelairean echoes in the poetry and prose of these twentieth-century American poets, which concludes that Les Fleurs du mal “came to full bloom in the dynamic earthly language of Stevens and Bishop.”

25Objects and material culture weigh heavily in the following section, “Stevens’ French Connections Real and Imaginary,” which comprises forays into Stevens’ peignoirs, wines, paintings, and masks, all of which are envisioned through a historical and textual lens.

26Tony Sharpe’s “‘Bordeaux to Yucatan’: Stevens’ French Connections” offers an all-embracing, textually illuminating overview of Stevens’ French connections recast as French inflections. “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” is rediscovered as the mock-didactic counterpart to La plume de ma tante, a sample sentence coined for the benefit of FSL [French as a Second Language] students (similar to ESL students’ My tailor is rich). Moving from “Sunday Morning” to encompass countless other poems, Sharpe lays bare the stylistics, phonetics, and politics of otherness in Stevens’ French locutions. While in a number of cases Stevens reached for French derisively and antagonistically, French locutions also blissfully assisted in his encoding of (erotic) sophistication. Ultimately, Sharpe contends that the naturalization of such words as “peignoir” and “cliché” into the poem’s native idiom indicates “crossover rather than contention,” issuing forth a purposely intermixed “beau language.”

27The following chapter, Glen MacLeod’s “‘ATouch of Paris’: Stevens, Walter Pach, and Matisse,” provides readers with the first extensive portrayal of Stevens’ relation to Matisse through their mutual friendship with Walter Pach. Pach was an art dealer and Francophile who, MacLeod argues, was pivotal to the development of Stevens’ artistic tastes. While “St. Armorer’s Church from the Outside” is the only poem by the American poet that records Matisse’s name, there is evidence that his interest spanned his entire career, from the Armory Show in 1913 to the first major Matisse retrospective in the US almost forty years later. Observing that the poem appeared only one year after the Museum of Modern Art mounted a major exhibition in New York covering Matisse’s entire career, MacLeod fastidiously builds a new reading of it as a long-deferred homage to the French painter, rather than a taunt aimed at Matisse’s reputation as “merely decorative.”

28 Taste is paramount in Edward Ragg’s chapter, “The Hartford Bourguignon: French Wines in Stevens’ Writings,” which embarks readers on a fascinating chronicle of wartime France through the lens of French gastronomy and the predicament of Burgundy vineyards. Wine and food exerted a strong pull on Stevens’ imagination; Ragg expertly demonstrates how the grands crus and place-names of Burgundy became materia poetica in Stevens’ poetry of the early 1940s, especially “Montrachet-le-Jardin” and “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” both of which appeared when most of Burgundy was under Nazi Occupation. In other words, wine became “the quasi-barometer through which Stevens measured the places, politics, and culture (s) of his time.”

29In “French Masks and the Life of the Mind in Stevens’ Poetry,” Anne Luyat provides an account of Stevens’ recourse to theatrical characters and comic masks made (or circulated) in France, noting how they were appropriated, and gradually transformed, in Stevens’ poetry. Two poems from Stevens’ collection Transport to Summer, “The Pastor Caballero” and “Repetitions of a Young Captain,” particularly unmask the transformations of the boastful captain archetype inherited from the commedia dell’arte as remediated in poems by Paul Verlaine, illustrations by George Rouault, and a film by Marcel Carné. The changing contours of these masks and personae, some of them derived from France’s African colonies like Gabon, enabled Stevens a playful exuberance that often triggered a reflective meditation on war and the human condition.

30The volume’s last section, “Stevens and French Thought,” is organized around three readings of Stevens’ poetry that are deeply informed by French theory and continental philosophy. Gül Bilge Han, in her chapter “Jacques Rancière and the Political Dimensions of Aesthetic Autonomy in Stevens’ Depression-Era Poetry,” suggests ways in which Rancière’s recent remapping of the relationship between politics and aesthetics might yet shed light on Stevens’ poetry of the 1930s. Drawing on his unsettling of the opposition between the aesthetic and political functions of art, Han reexamines Stevens’ “Mozart, 1935” as articulating a socially engaged position that redefines aesthetic autonomy as an enabling condition, rather than a threat, for this engagement.

31Thomas Gould in “‘Of patches and of pitches’: Stevens, Jean-Luc Nancy, and the Sense of a World” builds his argument on a relatively recent work by Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Plaisir au dessin (2007), that reflects on the proximity between drawing and thinking and envisages drawing as a paradigm for all the other arts. Gould traces the parallel between the graphic line and the poetic line in Stevens, locating both the art of drawing and the art of poetry in a temporality of the preliminary. Like Han, Gould is interested in pursuing the relational quality of Stevens’ poetry; he uses Nancy’s concepts of being with and transimmanence, however, to look at a number of poems, such as “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight,” “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” and “July Mountain.”

32In “Stevens’ Reality and Imagination through a Lacanian Lens,” Axel Nesme expounds on the Lacanian categories of the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary to evince how they come into play in The Necessary Angel and particularly “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” providing a conceptual framework that helps unravel some of the essay’s complexities and incongruities. The “variously noble” riders summoned by Stevens in the essay, most notably Verrocchio’s statue of Colleoni, Cervantes’Don Quixote, Mills’s statue of Andrew Jackson, and Marsh’s painting Wooden Horses, seem to achieve “an interdependence of the imagination and reality as equals” (CPP, 659) even as they point to a third way where desire features prominently as a “violence from within that protects us from a violence without” (CPP, 665).

33While Charles Altieri’s “Afterword” bears on the circumstances of the 2015 conference, it also provides stimulating afterthoughts on how the papers delivered in Paris affected his own take on the topic. “My ‘Stevens in France’” both recapitulates “what it might mean to attend to the material presence of the French language within Stevens’ English” and broaches the topic of “eloquence,” defined here by Altieri as creating “a kind of space that establishes a civilized mode of pleasure.” Coming after the section on Stevens and French theory, Altieri’s essay offers a smooth transition to the previous contributors’ ideas, by bringing in Spinoza’s Ethics to discuss, and commend, pleasure as inseparable from an expressive activity that is, after all, “the province of the humanities.”


34The essays gathered here originated in a conference that took place over four days during the first week of June 2015 at the Université Paris-Sorbonne, a decidedly ironic backdrop to discussions of a poet who mischievously wrote, “They will get it straight one day at the Sorbonne” (CPP, 351). Expanding on a 2010 special issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal guest-edited by Anne Luyat and entitled “Stevens and France,” the conference, under the slightly different heading “Stevens in France,” aimed to shift the focus toward Stevens’ French legacy, while at the same time following in the footsteps of the special issue’s contributors, with a view to charting Stevens’ (metaphorical, never physical) excursions into “le pays de la métaphore.” As it happened, the conference’s animated discussions gave birth to a number of new, unanticipated debates, yet the question of Stevens’ academic and artistic legacy in France never quite arose: however promising a topic, his status among poets today (Michel Deguy, Martin Rueff, and Jean-Christophe Bailly, for instance), including among poets and writers who went so far as to translate some of his works (Claire Malroux, Claude Mouchard, Bernard Noël, and Leslie Kaplan), his early recovery as a dramatist by as prominent a stage director as Claude Régy (who staged Trois voyageurs regardent un lever de soleil [Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise] at La Bastille theater in 1988), his resurgence in the writings of French philosophers (most recently, Alain Badiou)—not to mention painters and composers—was never addressed as such by any of the speakers or, in some cases, never made its way into the final version of their essays. More than regret, let this be heard as an invitation to scholars to come, and the sign that there is still ample room to study the unexhausted complexities of Stevens’ French-American interchanges.

35My heartfelt thanks go to all those who brought their personal and institutional support to this project: to Claire Malroux and Massimo Bacigalupo, Stevens’ translators into (respectively) French and Italian, who were kind enough to attend the conference and share their invaluable insight during the roundtable on “Stevens in translation”; to the French poet Bernard Noël, whose translations of Stevens, published in 1989 under the title Description sans domicile, played a key role in Stevens’ rediscovery in France, for his epistolary reflections on the topic of Stevens and French poets; to my colleague Julie Vatain-Corfdir, who directed an irresistibly comic performance of Stevens’ play Bowl, Cat, and Broomstick (1917), and to the actors who accompanied her on stage, Charles Brasart, Lucille Hagège, Anne-Florence Quaireau, Michaël Roy, and Kerry-Jane Wallart; to Elisabeth Angel-Perez, for her unflinching support for this and many other projects through the VALE EA4085 research center; to Hélène Aji, Clément Oudart, and Anne-Laure Tissut, who helped organize the event and ensure its smooth unfolding; to Agnès Derail, whose role was pivotal to the publication of this volume, and to Lucie Marignac and Marie-Hélène Ravenel, at the Éditions rue d’Ulm, who helped shape the book and bring it to the finish line; finally, and most importantly, to Lisa Goldfarb and Bart Eeckhout, co-organizers, co-editors, “and a great deal more than that,” who entrusted me with the rather daunting task of organizing the first Wallace Stevens Society conference in France, and relentlessly taught me the tricks of the editorial trade, with their characteristically companionable expertise.


1 T. S. Eliot, “What France Means to You,” p. 94.

2 L. Beckett, Wallace Stevens, p. 209.

3 Redding is thinking of William York Tindall, Roy Harvey Pearce, Joseph Riddel, and Harold Bloom. See P. Redding, “Between Surface and Influence: Stevens, Whitman, and the Problem of Mediation,” p. 12.

4 R. Gilbert, “Whitman and Stevens: Certain Phenomena of Sound,” p. 70.

5 L. M. Jenkins, “Beach Boys: Stevens, Whitman, and Franco-American Modernism,” p. 53.

6 E. Cook, Poetry, Word-Play, and Word-War in Wallace Stevens, p. 183.

7 C. Bernstein, My Way: Speeches and Poems, p. 113.

8 See K. Van Haesendonck, “An Alternative to the Classical Eurocentric Way of Thinking,” interview by Lorenz Khazaleh (3 October 2014),, accessed 1 September 2017.

9 See É. Glissant, “The Unforeseeable Diversity of the World,” p. 290. The sentence is quoted as an epigraph to the volume edited by E. Gutiérrez Rodríguez and S. A. Tate, Creolizing Europe: Legacies and Transformations (p. 2) and resonates strongly in Gutiérrez Rodríguez’s own chapter, “Archipelago Europe: On Creolizing Conviviality” (p. 80-99).

10 É. Glissant, Introduction à une poétique du divers, p. 18.

11 L. M. Jenkins, op. cit., p. 54.

12 The phrase is borrowed from Aurore Clavier’s chapter.

13 See É. Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi (p. 118).

14 See L. M. Steinman, “Unanticipated Readers.”

15 W. Whitman, “An American Primer,” The Atlantic, April 1904. See, accessed 5 September 2017.

16 C. Bernstein, op. cit., p. 132.

17 Ibid., p. 119-120.

Table des illustrations

Titre Pach Brothers Photo of Wallace Stevens, New York, c. 1940
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k


Associate Professor of American Literature at Université Paris-Sorbonne and a fellow of the CNRS for the year 2016-2017. She serves on the Editorial Board of The Wallace Stevens Journal and has recently contributed essays to Wallace Stevens, New York, and Modernism (Routledge, 2012), Poetry and Poetics after Wallace Stevens (Bloomsbury, 2017), and Wallace Stevens in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Her monograph on Stevens’ late poetry and the question of late style, Wallace Stevens, une poétique du fini. Pour une approche matérielle de l’œuvre, is forthcoming with Honoré Champion.

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