(c. 1265–1321) Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy.  He was an Italian poet most famous for writing The Divine Comedy- the story of the author's journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.  "In Italy he is called il Sommo Poeta ("the Supreme Poet") and il Poeta."  Dante is also referred to as  "the Father of the Italian language."  Dante also wrote La Vita Nuova (The New Life) as an expression of courtly love to his wife Beatrice with whom he fell in love with "at first sight."  

Beatrice stillman



Sybil Gage Weddle, 1909

Dante and StevensEdit

Stevens had read La Vita Nuova "where the poet speaks of his initial meeting with the nine-year-old Beatrice Portinari, including the Latin phrase 'ecce deus fortior me, qui beniens dominabitur mihi' [the god of love, greater than I, came and took dominion over me]. This was Dante’s first meeting with his muse" (1).

In “Anecdote of the Jar,” a poem composed in 1919, when Stevens was still part of the Arensberg group,  Stevens writes: 

The jar was round upon the ground 

And tall and of a port in air. 

It took dominion everywhere.

In her biography of Stevens, Alison Johnson suggests that Stevens employed the use of ciphers and hidden messages at this early stage of his poetry experimentation.  William Ford, in his article "Seeking the Sibyl of Harmonium: Wallace Stevens and Sybil Gage,"  discovers Beatrice's name in "Anecdote of the Jar"  coupled with the use of the phrase "took dominion"  and takes this as proof that Stevens was inserting hidden messages in his poems (1).

Including the name of one of the most famous muses of all time may have allowed Stevens to insert the name of his own muse.  Johnson believes this woman was Sybil Gage and perhaps referenced as "Eve" in the poem "Dolls."

Most scholars believe that Elsie served as muse for "Dolls" and Stevens, disappointed at Elsie's less than pleased reaction to the poem, replaced her with his own "inner paramour " (2).


  1. Dante
  1. Johnson, Alison. Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive. Cumberland Press. 2012.
  1. Lensing, George S. Wallace Stevens and the Seasons. Louisiana State University Press. 2001.