Mystery of the Muse in Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West”

Document Type : Research Article


Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Letters and Humanities, Razi University, Kermanshah, Iran



This study aims to address the critical status of the woman singer (the muse) in Stevens’ poem “The Idea of Order at Key West.” In many critical commentaries on this work, the muse is seen as vacillating between two extreme states, that is, as being either resistant to interpretation or as nonexistent whatsoever. The conclusion drawn by these diverse commentaries is that Stevens makes a systematic attempt to suppress the feminine voice by inscribing the determining and determinable male poet at the center of the poem. This research, however, is an attempt to refute this interpretation by drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s philosophical theories concerning the “end of the poem,” and by focusing specifically on formal aspects of the poem. In light of Agamben’s theories, it will be argued that the muse should be seen not only as the sole site of a meaning-making event by referring to its own pure moment of existence without presupposing any transcendental signifier that precedes it, but also as the only reference point that allows fresh possibilities of meaning to emerge. As such, we will show that the muse’s voice is not expropriated by a misogynistic male poet, but on the contrary, it is precisely her indeterminate deictic presence as the pronoun she that makes her, the poem, the poet, and the readers as the ultimate creative sources of meaning who do not yield to any masculine logic of exclusion.