Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction
Cummington, Massachusetts: The Cummington Press, 1942. Slim octavo, original white cloth stamped in black and grey, grey endpapers. Printed in black, grey and yellow, with titles designed by Alessandro Giampetro. Cloth smudged, spine toned, lacking original glassine. Ownership signature of John Crowe Ransom.
First edition of Stevens's great meditation on poetry, one of 190 numbered copies on Dutch Charcoal paper out of a total edition of 273, this copy out of series and marked as a reviewer's copy. In Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction, Stevens makes three claims for the highest work of the imagination: it must be abstract, it must change, and it must give pleasure. “Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was / A name for something that never could be named. / There was a project for the sun and is. / There is a project for the sun. The sun / must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be / In the difficulty of what it is to be." This copy belonged to Fugitive poet and Southern Agrarian John Crowe Ransom, then editor of the Kenyon Review. Ransom did not review the poem at the time of publication, but two years later he wrote to Stevens: “I've just been reading Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, some more. Nobody can do such poems, besides you. I like best the innocent, non-philosophical ones . . . Yet I'm absolutely for the philosophical position you occupy." He goes on to lament, in confidence, the quality of the recent poems in the Kenyon Review, and asks Stevens to contribute: “I'd rather have you than anybody." Ransom's request led to the appearance of Stevens's “Esthétique du Mal" in the autumn 1944 number (Selected Letters, 316-17). An excellent association copy, bringing together two major American poets.