Treasure Island

Wallace Stevens

(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

Sunday Morning


Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
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  • Thomas Harris (2/5/2014 1:07:00 PM)

    This poem was included in a text of required readings for my Freshman year in college. I have been able to recite it from memory, more or less, ever since. (Report) Reply

  • David-sarah Hopwood (2/25/2012 7:37:00 PM)

    Imagine quotation marks around (The Green Cockatoo) and (the main characters in the Poem are Mary and Jesus) in my previous comment; the site software seems to dislike double quote characters. (Report) Reply

  • David-sarah Hopwood (2/25/2012 7:32:00 PM)

    The Green Cockatoo is the name of a play written around 1899 by Arthur Schnitzler, about the French Revolution: http: // (in translation) . Coincidence? It's an interesting play and I wouldn't be at all surprised at Stevens referencing it in this particular poem (whatever else the green cockatoo refers to) .

    Daithi, I quite disagree that the main characters in the Poem are Mary and Jesus; Jesus is referenced rather indirectly and Mary not at all. It's an atheist poem for sure - verse 6 is about the implausibility of an eternal heaven, for example. But if religious folks like the poem as well, s'all good: -) (Report) Reply

  • Daithi De Paore (1/11/2010 1:21:00 PM)

    Maureen, you do realise that the main characters in the Poem are Mary and Jesus? Also Wallace Stevens is said to have converted to Catholicism before he died.That said, it is a teasing poem and a beaut.It is a wonderful meditation on the worth of sensuality while there is the divine.The pondering Lady who has divinity living inside herself, who feels god in a silent shadow and in dreams.This is a masterpiece of reflection on the Incarnation for my money (Report) Reply

  • Maureen Fox (4/10/2009 10:56:00 PM)

    This unsurpassed atheist's hymn is proof that atheism, like religion, can inspire great art. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (1/16/2007 10:58:00 AM)

    Mr. Capozzoli: Damn, you're right! Cockatoos aren't green, they're either white, black or peach. Thank you! After reading your comment I went back to the text. When I did, my initial reaction was that 'green' modified 'freedom, ' and not 'cockatoo.' (And frankly, green seems like an apt color for freedom.) But a few lines down, Stevens talks about 'green wings.' So either he's talking about a parrot (not a cockatoo) , or this living, green cockatoo is some kind of weird, perverse mutant bird, or it is a design on the rug. I stand corrected and support the last of these three possibilities.

    So what's 'free' about a design on a rug? Again, I don't pretend to have the final answer here, but it could be that our imaginations are free to create a green cockatoo...something nature hasn't done.

    Again, my thanks! (Report) Reply

  • Nick Capozzoli (1/14/2007 7:42:00 PM)

    A very great poem indeed. The language is worthy of Shakespeare at his best. What are we to make of 'the green freedom of a cockatoo/upon a rug...? ' I don't believe there are any green cockatoos in nature. There may be rugs with green cockatoos embroidered onto them. I have also seen cockatoo excrement that is greenish in color, and I can imagine that some of this greenish excrement might be deposited 'upon a rug, ' especially if the cockatoo were allowed 'freedom' from its cage. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (9/26/2006 10:32:00 AM)

    Well, yes. This is certainly a great and enduring poem. But what makes it great? What causes it to endure? I don't pretend to have the Final Truth here, but let me offer the following as a starting point for further discussion.

    IMHO, this particular poem has (at least) three great characteristics: it uses language and imagery carefully to create what I'll call 'density' (i.e., the words and images are packed with meaning): it deals with an important subject (the relationship between God and humankind): and it evokes a panoply of responses, whether intellectually or emotionally. (This last characteristic could be a result of the first-the fact that the words and images are packed with meaning.)

    I particularly like to see the point at which this poem starts, where it ends, and how it gets there. It starts on a Sunday morning in room that appears well-appointed, perhaps even opulent. A woman lounges in a peignoir (not a house coat) as her cockatoo wanders across the rug, presumably out of its cage. The 'holy hush of ancient sacrifice' is dissipated by sensuality-the complacencies that surround her. The poem ends with a voice that cries (in the wilderness?) a message concerning 'the tomb in Palestine, ' while 'casual flocks of pigeons make ambiguous undulations.'

    On the way from Point A to Point B, almost every line brings a new and powerful image. The first thing I noticed was the birds. Wild birds, birds kept as exotic pets, evoking but not mentioning the concept of Holy Spirit as dove?

    The woman questions the nature of divinity. Can God live among us? (Jove? Jesus? The woman's 'dreaming feet' walk across 'wide water.' Does she aspire to divinity?) Can eternal heaven be changeless and still be filled with beauty? (Note here that 'April's green endures.' So while the beauty of an eternal, changeless heaven is questioned, temporal beauty 'endures.')

    And in this context, there is a line that Stevens finds important enough to repeat: Death is the mother of beauty.

    In the end, 'The tomb in Palestine is not the porch of spirits lingering. It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.' If death is the mother of beauty, then what are we to conclude about Jesus' death? Do these lines affirm his resurrection? (Perhaps.) Do they question his divinity? (Again, perhaps.) And what are we to think of this in the context of a natural, chaotic, and quite beautiful world?

    I don't believe that Stevens is being ambiguous here. But he certainly is tackling or confronting ambiguity. In the end, perhaps the 'ambiguous undulations' are our own, as we sink downward to darkness on extended wings. (Report) Reply

  • Marilyn Hochfield (5/16/2006 7:12:00 PM)

    One of the greatest poems of the 20th century-indeed, of all of English poetry. It will endure as April's green endures. (Report) Reply

  • Lamont Palmer (1/28/2006 1:11:00 AM)

    One of the most imaginative poems of the 20th century. Stevens was a master of the music of the mind. (Report) Reply

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