Henry Church was an art collector and editor of the French quarterly journal Mesures, as well as being one of Stevens’s closest personal friends. (He wrote poetry as well, although he never seems to have shared this information with Stevens.) They frequently corresponded, and Stevens also wrote letters to Henry’s wife, Barbara. Thanks to Church’s position as heir to the Arm and Hammer baking soda fortune, he was financially secure. He and his wife lived in France for most of their adult lives, returning to America only to avoid the second world war. Church’s sudden death on April 4, 1947 seems to have inspired Stevens’s poem, “The Owl in the Sarcophagus.”
Church had a deep admiration for the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche . Despite his best efforts, Church always lamented that he could not get Stevens to share his fascination.
Stevens dedicated "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" to Church.
"The Owl in the Sarcophagus."Edit
This poem was originally published in the journal Horizons, and it must have been written shortly after Church's death. (Stevens mentions it in a letter to Barbara Church five months after her husband passed away.) As usual, Stevens fends off any indication that his poetry is personal. However, in his letter of September 5th, 1947, he writes:
This was written in the frame of mind that followed Mr. Church’s death. While it is not personal, I had thought of inscribing it somehow, below the title, as, for example, Goodbye H.C., but it was hardly written before I received Horizon’s letter and as it would not have been easy to talk to you about it at the time I omitted the inscription. (Letters 617)