220px-Stanley Burnshaw

Stanley Burnshaw (1906-2005) was an American poet known for his 1970 volume of poetic theory and criticism The Seamless Web. Also known for his social and political activism, Burnshaw worked in the corporate world, ultimately establishing a career in publishing. 

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Stevens and Burnshaw Edit

Stevens makes two references to Burnshaw in his letters. The first reference is rather uncomplimentary: 

"The review in Masses was a most interesting review, because it placed me in a new setting. I hope I am headed left, but there are lefts and lefts, and certainly I am not headed for the ghastly left of Masses. The rich man and the comfortable man of the imagination of people like Mr. Burnshaw are not nearly so rich nor nearly so comfortable as he believes them to be. And, what is more, his poor men are not nearly so poor. These professionals lament in a way that would have given Job a fever." [1]

The New Masses was a weekly New York City editorial for which Burnshaw worked, performing a number of varied duties. This Marxist publication was much too left-wing for Stevens' tastes, as was Burnshaw himself. 

"Owl's Clover"Edit

In his 1936 version of the poem "Owl's Clover," Stevens entitles the second main section of the poem "Mr. Burnshaw and the Statue." [3] Though Burnshaw's name is mentioned only one other time in this poem, Stevens explains the reference in his letters: 

"I have just finished a poem that might be of some interest. You will remember that Mr. Burnshaw applied the point of view of the practical Communist to Ideas of Order; in 'Mr. Burnshaw and the Statue' I have tried to reverse the process: that is to say, apply the point of view of a poet to Communism." [2] 

It seems that Stevens, frustrated with Burnshaw's interpretation of him as a liberal, sought to set things right in "Owl's Clover," a poem meant to show the fallacies inherent in Burnshaw's philosophies. Burnshaw and Stevens certainly espoused political views on opposing ends of the spectrum, and perhaps as a result were not close friends. 

References Edit

1. Letters of Wallace Stevens, edited by Holly Stevens. University of California Press, 1966. Page 286. 

2. Ibid., page 289. 

3. Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, Library of America, 1997. Pages 570-575.