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Wallace Stevens

I think then that the first thing that a poet should do as he comes out of his cavern is to put on the strength of his particular calling as a poet, to address himself to what Rilke called the mighty burden of poetry and to have the courage to say that, in his sense of things, the significance of poetry is second to none. We can never have great poetry unless we believe that poetry serves great ends. We must recognize this from the beginning so that it will affect everything that we do. Our belief in the greatness of poetry is a vital part of its greatness, an implicit part of the belief of others in its greatness. Now […] as I look back on the little that I have done and as I turn the pages of my own poems […] I have no choice except to paraphrase the old verse that says that it is not what I am, but what I aspired to be that comforts me. It is not what I have written but what I should like to have written that constitutes my true poems, the uncollected poems which I have not had the strength to realize. — Wallace Stevens, from “On Receiving the National Book Award for Poetry (1955),” Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose (Vintage, 1989)


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