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Poem first published in 1947 in Transport to Summer. A burgher is a citizen of a town. Set in graveyard in Amityville, according to Thomas F. Lombardi.

Lombardi gives the following reading: “In the poem, the ‘two by the stone wall’ are his grandparents, John and his wife, Catherine” (171). Lombardi explains Stevens’s poem as being a meditation on death experienced by those who live through the loss of a loved one. 

Grief

Grief

Cook writes that the poem presents “contrasting two kinds of death” (204). 

Ramazani compares Stevens’s poem with Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli” in that “Stevens grants death the vastness of the sublime, the infinitude that the mind anticipates, while also acknowledging death;s wastage of its victims” (109). 

The narrator lives (“still green”) and reflects back on his ancestors, but his true fear is “total death”-- death, followed by being forgotten by the living. 

Most critics agree (Lombardi, Cook, Schulze) that this poem in particular is a personal poem for Stevens, which is something of a rarity. Schulze reads the poem as a lament for the many deaths of World War II (“a death of great height”). For Schulze, the poem “becomes an autobiographical representation of Stevens’s own poetic uncertainties” (183).

Helen Vendler also addresses the poem in her text. Vendler splits the stanzas into two columns in order to represent two voices: one of indifference and the other of a son devastated by death.

Critical Works Concerning Poem:Edit

  • Ramazani, Jahan. Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Google Books. Web.
  • Cook, Eleanor. A Reader’s Guide to Wallace Stevens. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. 204. Google Book. Web.
  • Lombardi, Thomas F. Wallace Stevens and the Pennsylvania Keystone. Cranbury: Associated UP, 1996. Google Books. Web. 
  • Schulze, Robin G. “Singing the Soldier Home.” The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. U of Michigan P, 1997. Google Books. Web. 
  • Vendler, Helen. “Looking at the Worst: Wallace Stevens’s The Rock.” Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010. 25-46. Google Books. Web.