Summer maidens and bearded queens: Feminine archetypes in Wallace Stevens

Date of Completion

January 2001


Literature, Modern|Literature, American




This approach to Stevens' poetry employs the archetypal feminine to trace stages of psychosexual development of a poet-hero throughout the canon. This interdisciplinary approach relies on the depth psychology of Carl Jung and uses the significant correspondences between Stevens and Jung on attitude and art to illuminate Stevens' poems. ^ A grinding conflict between the poet-hero's creative and procreative drives, between desire and desire denied, heightens the ambivalence between masculine and feminine opposites. The ambivalence stems from the discord between the conscious self and the anima, the unconscious feminine constituent of the male psyche. Archaic feminine dualism keeps the protagonist emotionally celibate until an ennobling feminine power transmutes opposites into complements and creates a blissful equilibrium. The exposition follows Jungian psycho-dynamics and individuation. The interior quest closes the gender gap after the poet-hero recognizes his interior paramour as the feminine archetype in its “Fat girl,” or earth-as-woman aspect. ^ Chapter One deals with archetypes, the collective unconscious and the parallels between Stevens and Jung, starting with Stevens' “subman” symbol. Chapter Two explores dualism and protean forms of feminine figures. Chapter Three emphasizes the creative-versus-procreative conflict in the poet-hero's psyche. Chapter Four analyzes the poet-hero's dismissal of personified Florida and other feminine figures to protect his creative autonomy. Chapter Five introduces the interior paramour as Orphic Muse, whose “voice that is great within” foreshadows a rescuing feminine spirit. Chapter Six describes a stalemate of middle-age stasis and indecision. Chapter Seven examines the hero-hymns about “major man” and the use of herohood to offset feminine archetypes. Chapter Eight arranges a “mystic marriage” of opposites and names the “Fat girl” (earth-as-woman) as beloved feminine. Chapter Nine unites poet-hero and interior paramour, and propounds a central mind, an anagogic vision of poetry as the supreme fiction. ^ The pivotal poems in this psychic narrative are: “Sombre Figuration,” “World Without Peculiarity,” “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle,” “Farewell to Florida,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “Anglais Mort a Florence,” “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour,” and “A Primitive Like an Orb.” ^