Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Morning - No Beer, but Great Wallace Stevens

It occurred to CT on this Easter morning, that one of our favorite poems, "Sunday Morning," by Wallace Stevens would be a fine thing.

Stevens has never struck us as a beer guy. Indeed, a cheezy google search of his letters returns two banal mentions of "beer" and 13 more interesting ones of "wine." We haven't yet found a mention of "beer" in his poetry.

Originally published in 1915 as a 5 stanza poem, "Sunday Morning" was beefed up later into the 8 stanza version most of us know. Connoisseurs and scholars will have to comment on which is better! Here's the first and last stanza of the later version.

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.


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.
(read all 8 stanzas here)

We've never been sure if Stevens actually makes sense, but we are sure he delights in language and creates something beautiful.

Here's a biography of Stevens and perhaps more interestingly a podcast with the great Helen Vendler on Stevens, including comments on "Sunday Morning."

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