Along the Way: Wallace Stevens

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The grave of Wallace Stevens, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Connecticut

Note: More about Cedar Hill Cemetery can be found here: Katharine Hepburn

Wandering about the sacred grounds of Cedar Hill Cemetery I followed the rough directions I had been given to the grave of a Pennsylvania native who rests among the numerous stones of the cemetery. Unfortunately, his name did not appear on the map of famous graves, and the challenge of finding it was at hand.

Following the directions, I soon parked in the general area of the grave. Getting out of the vehicle, I paused to stare at the small hillside covered in memorials of the former residents of the Hartford region. Walking through the garden of stone, I scanned the memorials, taking in the names, but not finding the one I sought. Before long, mom had joined me walking among the graves – neither of us were able to discover the grave.

“I’m going back to the vehicle,” I called out. My plan was to go back to where I was parked and double check the information I had at hand and then start walking the hillside again. I had only gone a short distance towards the vehicle when I noticed a stone at the edge of my search area and one I had not checked before. Walking over to it, I discovered it was the one I was searching for and called out I had found it: it was the grave of Wallace Stevens.

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1879, the son of a noted lawyer. Stevens attended Harvard from 1897 to 1900 and then went to the New York Law School, where he graduated in 1903.

In 1904, while visiting his family in Reading, he met and fell in love with Elsie Viola Kachel. Despite his family’s objections, due to considering her “low-class,” the two married. The result was he never spoke to his father again, who died two years after Wallace and Elsie married. The marriage resulted in one daughter, Holly, who was born in 1924.

Note: After their marriage, the couple rented an apartment from sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, who made a bust of Elsie. This profile was supposedly used as the model for Weinman’s 1916–1945 Mercury dime design and also for the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. While this is an interesting story that has been repeated, there is no solid evidence this story is true.

In 1915 Wallace would produce “Sunday Morning” and “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” the two poems that introduce him to young adults due to their popularity in many college textbook anthologies. Stevens eventually took a position with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. The couple would move to Hartford in 1916, where they would spend the rest of their lives.

During this time, Stevens returned to writing poetry, something he had done while attending Harvard. In 1923, his first book of poetry, Harmonium, was published. His poetry displays his knowledge and vocabulary, and challenges the idea of Christianity, presenting instead the alternative that life is just a part of the natural cycle and one can be spiritual without believing in God.

Stevens next collection would not be published until 1936, when Ideas of Order was released, followed in 1937 with The Man the Blue Guitar. In 1950, Stevens would release his final collection of original poems, The Auroras of Autumn. Despite being a noted poet, Stevens never gave up his job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, working there until shortly before his death.

Stevens would receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 for The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. On August 2 of that same year, Stevens died of stomach cancer and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

I finished paying my respects to Wallace Stevens and as I turned to leave his resting place on the hill of the garden of stone, the first lines of “The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm” came to mind. I paused for a moment as the words, which at the moment seemed appropriate, flooded my mind. “The house was quiet and the world was calm. / The reader became the book”. With those words echoing in my head, I left him resting in silence among the rolling hills of Cedar Hill Cemetery.

 

 

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