Lectures on the calculus of variations by Gilbert Ames Bliss

By Gilbert Ames Bliss

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The woman’s statement – “But in contentment I still feel / The need of some imperishable bliss” (55) – sums up perfectly the 29 ROBERT REHDER motivation and conclusion of her Sunday-morning reverie. Sacrifice, death, guilt, and sin have no appeal for her. She accepts “all pains” without difficulty, but wishes for some immortal happiness. She trusts her feelings, rather than the beliefs of her culture. Her truth is derived from within herself. This statement is immediately followed by a denial and slight change of subject: “Death is the mother of beauty” (55).

All her life, at least during the time I knew her, she suffered from a persecution complex which undoubtedly originated during her childhood” (SP 137). Stevens’ parents never approved of their son’s relationship with this young woman who was literally from the wrong side of the tracks. Stevens’ quarrels with his father in the months before his engagement to Elsie in Christmas 1908 occasioned a family rupture. His father died almost three years later, on July 14, 1911. Although Stevens returned to Reading for the funeral, he had not spoken with him in the interim.

In the face of a world in constant flux, as described by the new physics and in particular quantum mechanics, these satisfactions would have to celebrate not the perfecting and protecting order of God’s creation but rather “the indifferent experience of life [as] the unique experience, the item of ecstasy which we have been isolating and reserving for another time and place, loftier and more secluded” (848). It was under the topic of how poetry must change that Stevens presented these observations.

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