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The All-Sustaining AirRomantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry since 1900$
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Michael O'Neill

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199299287

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299287.001.0001

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‘The Death of Satan’: Stevens's ‘Esthétique du Mal’, Evil, and the Romantic Imagination

‘The Death of Satan’: Stevens's ‘Esthétique du Mal’, Evil, and the Romantic Imagination

Chapter:
(p.105) 5 ‘The Death of Satan’: Stevens's ‘Esthétique du Mal’, Evil, and the Romantic Imagination
Source:
The All-Sustaining Air
Author(s):

Michael O'Neill (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299287.003.0006

The chapter reads ‘Esthétique du Mal’ as a work that illuminates the writings of the major Romantics, especially about evil and suffering. It argues that Stevens's poem, written at a time of historical crisis (in 1944), addresses the relationship between art and suffering. It draws links between Stevens's poem and an array of Romantic works, including Keats's The Fall of Hyperion, which find that what Stevens calls ‘the dark italics’ of evil compel the poetic imagination. Even Wordsworth's optimism does not forego awareness of forces that cry out against, even as they are subsumed within an imaginatively celebratory synthesis. Stevens, if read as someone whose poetry serves as a form of literary criticism, allows one to see that Romantic poets such as Shelley are often at their finest when voicing entangling or contradictory surmises about the relationship between the Utopian imagination and the pressures of reality. He allows us, therefore, to defend the Romantics against the charge that their vision is tainted by facile disregard of evil and suffering.

Keywords:   Stevens, evil, suffering, imagination, the Utopian, Wordsworth, Shelley, literary criticism

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