Essentials: Wallace Stevens’s ‘The Auroras of Autumn’

The Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens

Alfred A. Knopf 1950

It’s hard to pinpoint one book by Wallace Stevens as his most outstanding, since across his oeuvre there are so many brilliantly complex, beautiful, and fascinating poems—which is why he is one of America’s very most important and influential poets. In his last full collection, The Auroras of Autumn, Stevens continues to address his two dominant subjects: the primacy of the imagination to human experience, and the complexity of our phenomenological relationship with the physical world. But in Auroras, which Stevens published five years before his death, the poems also address head-on the issue of mortality—especially difficult for a poet who asserts that “[t]he search / For reality is as momentous as / the search for god,” “who has fought / Against illusion” in a world where “images are all we have.” Ultimately, The Auroras of Autumn is a sustained, meditative elegy for the individual’s interior life—the reality posited by the imagination in response to a world that for us exists only through the filter of subjectivity. In such poems as “This Solitude of Cataracts,” “The Owl in the Sarcophagus,” “The Bouquet,” “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” and the title poem, among others, we find Stevens’s “form gulping after formlessness” at its barest and most moving.

–Wayne Miller

Find The Auroras of Autumn here and in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.

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Wayne Miller is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently The City, Our City (Milkweed, 2011) and The Book of Props (2009). He also translated Moikom Zeqo’s I Don’t Believe in Ghosts (BOA, 2007) and co-edited both New European Poets (Graywolf, 2008) and Tamura Ryuichi: On the Life & Work of a 20th Century Master (Pleiades Press, 2011). The recipient of six Poetry Society of America awards, the Bess Hokin Prize, and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, he lives in Kansas City and teaches at the University of Central Missouri, where he edits Pleiades.