Stevens’ poems are arenas for engaging in metaphysical skirmishes. The tone of these combats is often so subdued, so rarified, that it belies the ferocity and violence attending the stakes. For Stevens, the legacy of the Romantics and the French Symbolists consists most vitally as a means for pushing back against the encroachments of an instrumentalist reality, of clearing a space for the human, which is itself sustained, if not produced, by this enterprise of imagination.
Nature in Stevens is never merely the natural, nor is it a source for anything so simple as images by which to stage his oppositional agon. He is not interested in using nature as an environmental scold like Gary Snyder might, nor does he turn it into a kitsch backdrop for delicate melodramas as does Mary Oliver. Rather, nature is the metaphysical Other; the theater of dream in which we can break and re-make ourselves, not as we were (never that), but as we always longed we might be – luminous, shot through with a language of pure vocables.