David Baker at The New England Review:
We think by feeling,” writes Roethke, and then adds with a lyric shrug, “what is there to know?” Roethke articulates in “The Waking” a manner of late, purified, and some have said discredited romanticism—more inspiration than intellect, more sense than sanity or reason. So he doesn’t get lost in his unknowing, in a dark time, Roethke finds his way in and back out of the maze by means of form itself, following the step-by-step, syllable-by-syllable guidance of the villanelle. Otherwise, it might all look like, well, disaster.
Wallace Stevens is one of our supreme knowers, one of the profound thinkers of, and inside, the lyric poem. If Roethke thinks by feeling, then how does Stevens think? All that abstract longwinded highbrow stuff, that tink-a-tink and philosophy, what to do with all that?
Philosophy is my first point, or rather the relation of philosophy to the lyric utterance. One of the persisting characterizations of Stevens and his poems—and it seems everyone has written on Stevens—is that he is a philosophical poet, that particular kind of abstractive thinker. Even a quick amble through recent Stevens criticism will show the commentators as likely to position Stevens alongside philosophers as alongside poets. Of course they situate him with Burke and Kermode, James and Santayana and Locke; but also Stevens with Derrida, Gombrich, Adorno, Bachelard, Blanchot, Wittgenstein, Lacan, Pater, Levinas, Hegel, Schlegel, Kant. Entire books appear about Stevens and the philosophical: The Never-Resting Mind, The Act of the Mind, Stevens’ Poetry of Thought, and A Cure of the Mind.