Wallace Stevens and Francis Parkman

The American West and Beyond

by Michael George Ryan (Author)
©2023 Monographs XVI, 166 Pages


Wallace Stevens and Francis Parkman: The American West and Beyond discovers a previously unacknowledged connection between the poet and the historian. Parkman in his historical narratives served as a source for a variety of poems by Stevens, including some of his more major efforts. Early on, Stevens responds in a playful way to Parkman; later on, Stevens becomes more serious and thoughtful, admitting to the more troubling aspects of Parkman’s narratives. With an understanding of how Parkman relates to these poems, the reader will more easily engage with the poet, and see how Stevens, in conjunction with Parkman, becomes a guiding light for acknowledging the cognitive dissonance that shadows the American experience.
Stevens was not always distant, not always a solipsistic poet. At least at times, he was deeply in touch with his world and deeply affected by it, as he aspired to grow beyond the historical burdens so deeply embedded in it. All readers of Stevens will benefit from reading this book, and, in particular, anyone with an interest in what makes Stevens a distinctly American poet.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Note on Citations
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Prospecting French Connections in Search of Wallace Stevens
  • Chapter 2. Discovering a Religious Perspective
  • Chapter 3. Realizing a Religious Perspective
  • Chapter 4. Prospecting Yet Another French Connection
  • Chapter 5. Prospecting Parkman on Another Day
  • Chapter 6. Summing Up and Heading West
  • Chapter 7. Heading Further West into Indian Territory
  • Chapter 8. A Note on Stevens’ Library and Beyond
  • Chapter 9. Going Beyond
  • Works Cited
  • Index of Poems and Works by Stevens
  • General Index

Note on Citations

Quotes taken from poems and prose works of Wallace Stevens are taken from Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, Selected by Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson, Wallace Stevens, The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York 1997. This work includes the prose book of collected essays, The Noble Rider. The work is identified by the abbreviation PWS.

Quotes from Francis Parkman are taken from two works: France and England in North America, 2 vol., Francis Parkman, The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York 1983 and from The Oregon Trail/The Conspiracy of Pontiac, Francis Parkman, The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York 1991, identified by page numbers in the text. In the case of France and England in North America the page number will be preceded by I or II, depending on the volume cited. The books included in Volume I of France and England in North America are Pioneers of France in the New World, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, and The Old Regime in Canada. The books included in Volume II of France and England in North America are Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, A Half-Century of Conflict and Montcalm and Wolfe.

Quotes from letters written by Wallace Stevens will be taken from Letters of Wallace Stevens, Selected and Edited by Holly Stevens, Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. L will be the abbreviation for this text followed by a comma and the page number of the letter.

References to books from Wallace Stevens’ library held by the Huntington Library will be either RB (Rare Books) or CB (Central Basement) followed by the call number which will most often be six digits.

Preface and Acknowledgments

This book was a long time coming. Various chapters in it were sent to various journals and routinely rejected. One chapter (Chapter 4: “Prospecting Yet Another French Connection”) was sent to several journals and rejected again and again. Each rejection was, though, a blessing in disguise because each rejection served as an impetus to improve the whole text. Finally, the editor of the journal Twentieth Century Literature, Lee Zimmerman, suggested that I submit all that I had to the Peter Lang Publishing Group. They agreed to publish the manuscript. I, therefore, want to acknowledge Lee Zimmerman for his help and also the managing editor, Keith M. Dallas.

I want to extend a special thanks to my daughter Sarah for her help, especially for her technical support in making this book a reality.

I want to thank Richard Giannone, Professor Emeritus at Fordham University, for first introducing me to Stevens many years ago and to Helen Vendler, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, for encouraging me to pursue the connection I saw between Francis Parkman and Wallace Stevens. I would also like to thank Peter Hanchak, Wallace Stevens’ grandson, for providing a copyright release for the unpublished letter sent by Wallace Stevens to Paule Vidal that was helpful in explicating Stevens’ poem, “The Auroras of Autumn” and also for his encouragement. I would also like to thank Lisa Copelin at the Huntington Library in San Marino California for her help in providing useful information about Stevens’ personal library.

I also want to thank Patricia Tyrer, Associate Professor of English at West Texas A&M University, Theresa Trela Assistant Lecturer of English Emeritus at West Texas A&M University and Michael Roberts for their suggestions as to improving my writing and to Patricia Tyrer for her early support.

I also want to thank Harvard University Archives for providing information about Stevens as a student at Harvard. I should also thank Jasmin Agostino at the Hartford History Center/Hartford Public Library for discovering for me the one time physical connection between the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Hartford Public Library.

I also want to thank Robert Smith, Steve Ely and the staff at the Cornette Library at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, who helped with finding pertinent essays in the Wallace Stevens Journal that relate to the poems I discuss together with Bridget Hefner and Brad Reynolds and the staff from the Amarillo Public Library, Southwest Branch, who helped me find online versions of books that I needed to develop my argument. Others who helped include Lea Sabatini, while working at Harvard, Barb Breidentein at the Reading Public Library in Reading Pennsylvania, Sidnye Johnson, Special Collections and Archives Librarian at the Cornette Library, and Veronica Arias and Warren Stricker from the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas.


Wallace Stevens is an American poet, published between 1923 and 1954, who worked within the modernist tradition. But that tradition does not encompass Stevens. Growing beyond it can be found a connection, previously unacknowledged, to the American historian Francis Parkman and to the American West. Stevens mined the historical narratives of Parkman, returning to them again and again, as a treasure trove of source material. He excavated them, sifting through them one by one, extracting from them the material for a variety of poems. Stevens’ use of Parkman spanned the range of his career. Over time, the character of that use changed: early on, his mining tended to be playful and whimsical; later, it became more meditative and mature.

Parkman’s narratives come with the westering message that life, however mangled and imperfect, can still qualify as a journey of exploration and discovery, replete with an array of surprising and nuanced encounters. Paramount for Stevens among the variously shaded historical encounters described by Parkman looms the history of compromising meetings with the aboriginal inhabitants of the land, meetings that brought decimation to the native inhabitants of America. But implicit within the concept of the American West trails the notion of starting over again, and explicit in Stevens emerges a hope for going beyond terrible misdeeds with rebirth and a return to innocence.

Parkman impressed Stevens to the point of inspiration; and it is by way of this inspiration that Parkman breathes life into Stevens’ poetry. Stevens and Parkman could be said to be soulmates, each aspiring to go beyond. Parkman chronicled French aspirations, especially in France and England in North America, while Stevens, grounding himself in his secret relationship to Parkman, wove from the various threads of aspiration chronicled by Parkman his uniquely American poems.

Francis Parkman positions the seven historical narratives that make up his epic, France and England in North America, around the French colonial experience. France appears upfront in the title and the text centers on the French. Through sparkling prose, Parkman records the rapid French advance across North America that stands in sharp contrast to the incremental movement of the English. In Montcalm and Wolfe, Parkman describes how the English, “shut between the mountains and the sea” (Parkman II 1983, 859), were rooted to their eastern seaboard; and, earlier, in Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, he drew the distinction even finer: “The rival colonies had two different laws of growth. The one increased by slow extension, rooting firmly as it spread; the other shot offshoots, with few or no roots, far out into the wilderness” (Parkman II 1983, 285). The French pushed west by leaps and bounds, breathing hard; the English, along the Atlantic coastal plain, respired at a more measured pace. However, when push came to shove, the French were forced out of North America as a result of the French and Indian War. Soon thereafter, the Indians were neutralized by the suppression of the Indian rebellion following that War. Ultimately, even the English were driven out by a War of Independence. At that point, the residual colonists, as new Americans, took off. Lewis and Clark explored up the Missouri River and over the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest and back. John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria on the Columbia River. Stephen Austin induced southerners from various states to settle in Texas. The Oregon Trail was blazed and then the discovery of gold and the forty-niners opened up California. It was as if a French spirit was resurrected and grafted into the new American and the romance of the West was born.


XVI, 166
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Modernism and Catholicism Wallace Stevens Francis Parkman American Poetry American History Manifest Destiny Wallace Stevens and Francis Parkman The American West and Beyond
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XVI, 166 pp., 5 b/w ill., 5 color ill.

Biographical notes

Michael George Ryan (Author)

Michael George Ryan has studied at the University of Notre Dame and subsequently went to medical school at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Having discovered Wallace Stevens during undergraduate studies, Michael George Ryan further explored his works upon retirement contributing to this, his first book.


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