UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Oscillations of the absolute : an examination of the implications of Wallace Stevens' "Central Poetry." Eccleston, Keith Darrel


The Inadequacy of the image has ever been the besetting problem of idealist esthetics. The discrepancy between the absolute and the contingent, between the thing, the idea of the thing and the experience of the thing provides common cause for the compositions of hermetic art. The basic affirmation of this thesis is that the theory of Wallace Stevens offers a demonstrable solution to the problem and that his relational use of images in The Collected Poems overcomes the inadequacy of those images. In practice, however, this thesis involves the delineation of that solution less than the dialectics necessary to determine its nature. Such a method is dictated by an initial acceptance of deliberate obscuration as one of the formative principles of Stevens' esthetic. The introduction to this paper is little more than an examination of the causes and values of obscuration in Stevens' prose and in his poems and a defence of the method adopted herein to deal with those values; in it, Stevens' poems are viewed as acts appropriate to the practical process of transcendence - a process designed to attain, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, "One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God." The theoretic validity of transcendence as process becomes the onus probandi of "Part I". It constitutes an attempt to appease apparent ambiguities in Stevens' theory of poetry -ambiguities that have plagued critics who would perceive in his poems the principles of his theory - by determining the nature and implications of Stevens' concept of "central poetry." The source, nature, and mode of existence of that concept - used herein as generic name for Stevens' total theory - are characterized by the image of oscillations contained in the thesis title. Basically, the discipline of the "central poet" is analogous to that involved in the via affirmativa and via negativa of religious art, but the phrase 'oscillations of the absolute’ more easily manifests the character of his symbols. The phrase describes both the movement of the mind from involvement in the limitations of images and ideas to free contemplation and the nature of the 'existent images' which become adequate objects for that contemplation. The coupling of oscillations in the image with movements of the mind dictates the kind of study projected in "Part II" of this paper. Therein Stevens' theory is compared to the tenets of symbolism, in terms both of the creation of the individual symbol and of the symbolic work - specifically with Mallarmé's concept of "the Book." The architectonics of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens - the variation and repetition of image, the incorporations of allusion, the progression in the volume from positings of the contingent to existent images of the absolute - are indicated, and the karmic process of the mind as it dramatizes itself in that created architecture is described. Decreation, abstraction, composition, and repetition are treated as the major aspects of the movement of the mind towards the unfettered experience of the absolute. The purpose of this thesis is to provide a concept of the nature of Stevens' poetic that will prove efficacious as a critical approach to his poems. Its validity, therefore, is dependent upon the degree to which the concept herein evolved provides an insight into the experience of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.