Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main output came at a fairly advanced age. His first major publication (four poems from a sequence entitled "Phases" in the November 1914 edition of Poetry Magazine) was written at the age of thirty-five, although as an undergraduate at Harvard, Stevens had written poetry and exchanged sonnets with George Santayana, with whom he was close through much of his life. Many of his canonical works were written well after he turned fifty. According to the literary critic Harold Bloom, who called Stevens the "best and most representative" American poet of the time, no Western writer since Sophocles has had such a late flowering of artistic genius. Vendler notes that there are three distinguishable moods present in Stevens' long poems: ecstasy, apathy, and reluctance between ecstasy and apathy. She also notes that his poetry was highly influenced by the paintings of Paul Klee and Paul Cezanne:
Stevens saw in the paintings of both Paul Klee--who was his favorite painter--and Cezanne the kind of work he wanted to do himself as a Modernist poet. Klee had imagined symbols. Klee is not a directly realistic painter and is full of whimsical and fanciful and imaginative and humorous projections of reality in his paintings. The paintings are often enigmatic or full of riddles, and Stevens liked that as well. What Stevens liked in Cezanne was the reduction, you might say, of the world to a few monumental objects.
Stevens's first book of poetry, a volume of rococo inventiveness titled Harmonium, was published in 1923. He produced two more major books of poetry during the 1920s and 1930s and three more in the 1940s. He received the annual National Book Award for Poetry twice, in 1951 for The Auroras of Autumn and in 1955 for Collected Poems.
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