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Sunday Morning / Wallace Stevens

Updated: May 26, 2022

This long poem by the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens is one of my favourites. He was an interesting fellow. High-ranking insurance CEO by day, poet at night and as he walked to work. He would dictate his highly fantastical and colourful poems to his secretary when he arrived at the office.


On a hiking holiday in the Pyrenees, I took it upon myself to learn all eight 15-line stanzas by heart. Which, after a week, I did. Much to the admiration of my hiking buddy, Joshua, who is a wiz at memorising things.


The whole poem is a sumptuous masterpiece but this second stanza is particularly lovely, proffering as it does a very rich sense of spirituality. Not arid concepts of divinity but something much more sensual, seasonal and human.



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 measures destined for her soul.




I particularly loved that line "gusty emotions on wet roads on autumn nights" - which is

spot-on but also "passions of rain, or moods in falling snow". So wonderful.


Try reading the poem out loud. Or better still, read the whole thing here.


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12 Comments


Jane NY
Jane NY
Jun 01, 2022

A sensuous poem, so beautifully constructed. BTW, Poetry magazine really chopped it to pieces on first publishing it. I remember taking an American poetry course in college and the Prof saying Stevens was THE greatest American poet (though I also like William Carlos Williams)

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Bianca Aga
Bianca Aga
May 25, 2022

Amazing poem Alistair 🙏🏻

The verse IV so resonated.

The tiny Isle I live only warms when the birds arrive. Its lush green. Fields fill with wild flowers then turn golden light late into night. Swallows arrived a week ago nest in my outhouse. The extreme beauty for 6 months is then met equally with extreme harsh after the birds leave. It's like deepest love opposite depths of its duality.

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Trev
Trev
May 24, 2022

Beautiful, though I had to read it through out loud a few times to find its heart beat. Quite Keatsian with its incense and beeswax vibe, I thought ...


... And I'll stop there before it becomes apparent my poetry knowledge stops at A-level. But thank you, a lovely share. 😊

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Alistair Appleton
Alistair Appleton
May 24, 2022
Replying to

If your A levels got to Keats then you learned quite enough!

😀

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Alistair Appleton
Alistair Appleton
May 24, 2022

Actually, I have a soft spot for the very last few lines, which seem to have such poise and intonation in them, that I can almost feel the rise and fall of the birds as I read.


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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Alistair Appleton
Alistair Appleton
May 24, 2022
Replying to

That's wonderful. Yes, I'm sure they are descendants of the self-same pigeon flocks. What a wonderful thought. All lifted into connection by the written word.

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Hi Alistair,

Thanks for sharing that! He is an amazing poet and had such a lovely lifestyle!

For a long while I lived not far from his neighborhood and worked near where he worked. At times I used to ride my bike along much of the same route to work that he famously walked to work while composing poems. It was rather inspirational to take the route and to think of what he accomplished! (Interestingly, Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe also lived very close by the same area too!)


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Alistair Appleton
Alistair Appleton
May 24, 2022
Replying to

Wow. I didn't know that MT and HBS lived there too. I would love to walk Wallace's work route and see if any of his word-rich genius rubs off...

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