Going Beyond Tink and Tank

Charles Edward Eaton, in New and Selected Poems, as elsewhere, is a remarkable poet, a fine metrist and stylist, and a close disciple of Wallace Stevens in artistic skill and finesse as well as in theory and topics. Many a poet who buys whole hog and pen Stevens' often-prevalent view of poetics (and thus poetry) as endless vacillation and uncertainty, utterly lacks Stevens' polish and pleasure and talent. Eaton beautifully has them, yet also makes them his own. He is the strong disciple, not the weak.

One can even say (I do say) that Eaton writes more satisfactory poems than the later Stevens. Stevens in Harmonium and sometimes elsewhere wrote some magnificent things, but most of his later work is one sprawling notebook of genius, perpetually defeating its gains and humming its losses in many a modernist key.

Eaton regularly writes poems, whole and unified poems, with skill and grace and frequent power. The theme and topic is the relationship between aesthetics, art (poetry and painting most of all, but even ordinary conversation and observation), and reality. The conclusion is that aesthetic attempts do not suffice in their purity, and that the gap between art and reality is really not to be closed.

One can complain of the prevalence of such skepticism in our time. Descartes' dream (of achievable certainty in human thought) has been replaced in much 20th-century assertion with an...

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