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The Decomposer's Art

Ideas of Music in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens


Barbara Holmes

This comprehensive study of the ideas of music in Wallace Stevens' poetry «rereads» Stevens as a poet whose compositional strategies assimilate musical forms and performative programs. The «decomposer» is the poet of qualification, who constantly explores the validity of «developing variation» as the best means for creating art not limited by system or medium. As both subject and strategy for poetry, music becomes Stevens' most frequently used figure connecting his art to the rhythms of modern life. Thus, to disregard Stevens' ideas of music is to misread the text.
Contents: Chapter I: biographical basis for Stevens' use of music - II-IV: focuses on musical figures and compositional strategies - V: analyzes two contemporary musical settings of Stevens' poems. This work synthesizes preexisting commentary on Stevens and music and focuses on «developing variation» as the «decomposer's» method. To date, no large-scale study of Stevens has included music in its agenda.