Wallace Stevens

Pennsylvania / United States
Wallace Stevens
Pennsylvania / United States
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Sunday Morning

Rating: 4.3
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.
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COMMENTS
Michael Walker 30 July 2019
Wallace Stevens himself said that 'Sunday Morning' is about paganism.' Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth'. There is implied conflict with Christianity also, in the mind of the female central character: 'The tomb in Palestine/ Is not the porch of spirits lingering/ It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay'. It is a long, enigmatic poem, but I have read and appreciated it many times.
0 0 Reply
ellen 22 April 2018
When I read this poem in a Contemporary American poetry class in 1968 the last line in our text read But the tip that tips the tree still stands, a phallic reference to how the woman in the poem was a trophy wife - what happened to that line in my college text- you boys cleaned it up or what?
0 2 Reply
Aftab Alam Khursheed 01 March 2015
nice indeed with a touch.....
1 2 Reply
Thomas Harris 05 February 2014
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.
3 2 Reply
David-sarah Hopwood 25 February 2012
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.
2 6 Reply
David-sarah Hopwood 25 February 2012
The Green Cockatoo is the name of a play written around 1899 by Arthur Schnitzler, about the French Revolution: http: //www.archive.org/details/3486621 (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: -)
5 2 Reply
Daithi De Paore 11 January 2010
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
5 12 Reply
Maureen Fox 10 April 2009
This unsurpassed atheist's hymn is proof that atheism, like religion, can inspire great art.
12 4 Reply
Raymond Farrell 02 May 2015
Stevens was not an atheist.
0 0 Reply
Brenda Lennox 29 February 2008
http: //www.avianweb.com/sulphurcrestedcockatoos.html looks pretty green to me...
2 2 Reply
Gary Witt 16 January 2007
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!
3 2 Reply

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