I’ve certainly wondered what the derivation of the word ‘Pecksniffiana,’ used as a title for an early collection of Stevens poems, later published in Harmonion, could possibly be! I assumed it must be some sort of 'Pennsylvania Dutch' expression, and wished my father-in-law were still alive to question. Well, I’ve found it! ‘Pecksniffery’ is listed in the thesaurus of www.dictionary.com as a synonym for ‘CANT.’ My literary friend, Debra Ratner, says "Pecksniff' was a character in Dickens. He must have spouted a lot of pious BS.
Anyway, in most photographs of Wallace Stevens, he is either scowling, or faintly smiling like the Mona Lisa. No one would ever guess what a jokester he was at heart. Certainly, his poetry tells all, and this title, now that I know what it means, cracks me up. Of course, that is just one side of the double-entendre. The other side is the association of the syllable 'cant' with SONG (chant, cantor, canticle, etc). The musical sensibility which he brought to his poetry, perhaps as a result of his studies with Barrett Wendell at Harvard, is rhythmically sensible in most of these poems, which were later included in 'Harmonium,' a volume of poems with an even more obviously muscial title.
I thought it was interesting that so many of the titles in ‘Pecksniffiana’ (*CANT*) were written before the death of his sister. One of his critics, it might have been Joan Richardson, thought it interesting that ‘Another Weeping Woman’ was written after Catherine’s death in 1921, and marks the start of Wallace Stevens’ work with the reality of death in his own life. She has the broad picture, whereas I, still a beginner in Wallace Stevens, simply notice that in this poem (Another Weeping Woman) he introduces a note of real feeling for those who grieve. The previous poems, like ‘Fabliau of Florida,’ ‘Ploughing on Sunday,’ ‘The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage,’ are truly colorful, lovely, imagistic, interesting, and so forth, but they are like paintings, whereas ‘Another Weeping Woman’ is like a letter of condolence; it drips with sympathy. It shows us that Wallace Stevens has a heart, that he cares.
I also want to make a note here to say how much I appreciate the many resources that are available for studying Wallace Stevens. There is the Wallace Stevens Journal, the listserv, the wonderful biographies by Joan Richardson, the Collected Letters, and his daughter’s biography, 'Sourvenirs and Prophecies', and other great books as well. A favorite of mine is ‘Teaching Wallace Stevens, Practical Essays,’ edited by John N. Serio and available on-line at the WSJ.