It’s the birthday of Wallace Stevens (books by this author), born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). He wanted to be a journalist, but after a couple years of writing for a New York paper, he decided that he would fulfill his father’s desires and go to law school. After graduating, he took a job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he was in charge of inspecting surety claims. He would remain at the job for the rest of his life.
Each day, he walked the two miles between his office and upper-middle class home, where he lived with his wife and daughter, and during these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. He said, “It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job.” He would only let people walk with him if they didn’t talk. He never ate lunch, except for once a week “to break up the monotony” — and on that day, he would always go to a place near his Hartford, Connecticut, office.
He claimed that “poetry and surety claims aren’t as unlikely a combination as they may seem. There’s nothing perfunctory about them for each case is different.”
His first collection of poems, Harmonium, was published when he was 43 years old. Though the volume received only lukewarm praise at first, it later became considered a modernist classic. In 1955, just months before he died, he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his volume Collected Poems.
In his book Opus Posthumous, Stevens writes, “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” And he wrote, “The whole race is a poet that writes down / The eccentric propositions of its fate.”