“One function of the poet at any time is to discover by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be poetry at that time” (The necessary vii). What Stevens is suggesting here is that a poet must find a particular voice among other voices –other poets– and that his voice will be significant only if it intends to be a contribution to the theory of poetry, in the sense that they “are disclosures of poetry, not disclosures of definitions of poetry” (Ibid). Precisely, the poetry of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery are disclosures of poetry regarding imagination, for they deal with the capacity of the mind to transform external reality. Both poets take the reader through beautifully pictured strange landscapes and, by allowing the reader to experience, dialogically, what is pictured in the poem; both poets make clear that the reader is a fundamental part of it.
“In Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T.S. Eliot affirms that the greatest writers are those who are conscious of the writers who came before, as if they write with a sense of continuity. T.S Eliot addresses literary tradition as well as poetic tradition, and states that it is important to focus on “significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet” (18). In this sense, the importance of tradition in poetry relies on the fact that a poet must be aware of the achievements of his predecessors, for, as we shall see in the case of Stevens and Ashbery, “the emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living” (Ibid).
Poetic tradition is a concept usually used as part of historical literary criticism. The concept entails a comparative evaluation of a poet’s work in the context of his historical period with his predecessors and literary contemporaries. It is important to emphasize that due to the existence of marginalized groups, or subdivisions of the population, defining the concept of poetic tradition is difficult. However, in this essay, I understand poetic tradition precisely as the ability of the poet of being aware of his/her predecessors in order to create a poetics that takes into account existing tradition, but imprints its own voice throughout time and fix it in the memory of poetry.
In this essay, I will observe the way Stevens and Ashbery deal with imagination as a mayor theme of their poetic oeuvre. However, it is important to stress that in both cases I will address only general concerns about the role of imagination in poetry and that this essay is not an attempt to simplify the richness of the work of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery, but rather an effort to understand the importance of the poetic tradition. I shall proceed in the following...