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Sunday Morning


1

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

2

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.

3

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

4

She says, 'I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?'
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

5

She says, 'But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.'
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

6

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

7

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

8

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, 'The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.'
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

"Sunday Morning" is a poem from Wallace Stevens' first book of poetry, Harmonium. Published in part in the November 1915 issue of Poetry, then in full in 1923 in Harmonium, it is now in the public domain.[1]

CommentaryEdit

About this poem Stevens wrote, in the terse and bearish tone he reserved for such commentary, that it was "simply an expression of paganism."[2] If so, it is a refined post-Christianpaganismimbuedwith Stevens's characteristic infusion of the natural order with transcendental qualities. It defines itself by sympathetic reaction to the Christian impulse for immortality and a transcendent realm. [3] [4] The poet channels these impulses into the natural order. The immortality that matters belongs to the moment, like Susanah's beauty. Nothing valuable in human experience would survive relocation into a timeless heaven. This is a poetic expression of the philosophical thought that death gives meaning to life, but it also focuses on the sufficiency of mundane experience, as described in the poem's first few lines, to dissipate longings for an immutable world beyond nature. The woman with whom the poet is in dialogue dreams and feels the old catastrophe of Jesus's sacrifice, and is tempted to see it as a token of "imperishable bliss", but she is eventually brought round:

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."

The flight of casual flocks of pigeons at the conclusion of the poem takes them downward to darkness, not beyond the sky. That moment of their dive that the poet captures is immortal in the only sense that matters. Buttel reads "Sunday Morning" as subtly refuting the Attendant Spirit in Milton's Comus, a poem which asserts the heavenly over the earthly.[5] He also sees the poem as establishing Matisse as "a kindred spirit" to Stevens, in that both artists "transform a pagan joy of life into highly civilized terms."[6]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • Bates, Milton. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self. 1985: University of California Press
  • Buttel, Robert. Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium. 1967: Princeton University Press.
  • Stevens, Holly. Letters of Wallace Stevens. 1966: University of California Press.

NotesEdit

  1. Bates, p. 126. Buttel p. 230. See also Librivox [1] and the Poetry web site.[2] Editor Harriet Monroe chose five of the eight cantos Stevens sent her for the journal Poetry in 1915.
  2. Holly Stevens, p. 290.
  3. The Voice of Religious Questioning: Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning" [3].
  4. Perspectives in American Literature Chapter 7: Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) [4].
  5. Buttel, p. 223
  6. Buttel, pp. 157-8

External linksEdit

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