“Sunday Morning,” which was first published in 1915 in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry, is believed by many to be Wallace Stevens’ first significant poem. This poem is permeated by explicit philosophical and religious themes. It presents thoughts that are apparently attributed to a lady who sits with comfort eating her late breakfast one Sunday morning and muses on the Crucifixion. The lady is a shadowy figure of whom the reader can only know the emotions. Just as the lade “dreams a little,” the whole poem emerges as a daydream and a sort of meditation on the brink of sleep. MAIN CLAIM: In this poem, Wallace Stevens uses the form and the content to develop the theme of relations of humans to divinity and nature and attack Christianity in favor of worshipping nature.
The poem is written in eight stanzas each containing fifteen lines. It is neatly structured and resembles a sonnet but for its lack of rhyme between stanzas and an extra line in every stanza. “Sunday Morning” is in blank verse. The lines all have the same meter, yet they do not rhyme. The lines all have ten syllables, also known as “beats”. The rhyme scheme is iambic pentameter, which makes “Sunday Morning” sound close to a sonnet and close to Shakespeare’s texts. Wallace Stevens uses various figures of speech to achieve the desired effect on the reader. It seems his aim is to attack a contemporary person’s Christian beliefs and quest for eternal values. In order to convey this message, the author uses rich imagery and symbolism all related to nature, which he often personifies. The key symbol of nature and of the worth of worshipping it is the sun. The sunny chair image that readers encounter in Line 2 of the first stanza projects the symbolism of sun as a source of warmth and comfort. To illustrate this claim, Stevens writes, “Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair” (Stevens, “Sunday Morning”).
Further in the poem, Stevens presents the sun as a source of light, warmth, and growth through a synecdoche, and as the lady in the poem compares the sun with “the thoughts of heaven” (Stevens, “Sunday Morning”). He goes as far as to present the sun as the divine power that creates things and has his own personality (here Stevens uses personification as he refers to the sun as a “naked” being in “Naked among them, as a savage source”). Close to the poem’s end, Stevens presents the sun as a symbol of chaos: “We live in an old chaos of the sun.” (Stevens, “Sunday Morning”). In this way, Stevens uses a series of images of the sun to artificially present it as a sort of new deity through associating it with warmth and light, the divine, and chaos.
The images of the sky, birds, water, fruit, evening and morning, Christianity, paganism, and blood, etc all serve to create the feeling of uneasiness resulting from calling into questions the basic philosophical, religious, and cultural tenets of a Christian’s existence. Sunday morning becomes a symbol of resistance to Christianity (because the lady does not attend a Christian Sunday service), paganism – a symbol of joy of life; the sky becomes a symbol of God as well as the symbol of a man’s isolation from the rest of the world; birds become the symbol of happiness and paradise; water becomes the symbol of freedom and eternity; fruit becomes the symbol of comfort brought by nature; Christianity becomes the symbol of sacrifice and sadness; blood becomes the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice but also human energy. In this way, the poem’s images all reflect the poet’s desire to explore how humans relate to nature and God and redefine this relationship in his own way.
Likewise, the poem’s content explores the theme of relations between humans, divinity, and nature. If to analyze each stanza in particular, in the first stanza one can see a domestic scene, where a lady spends a Sunday morning (apparently, the Easter morning) away from church appreciating the secular beauty of her setting. In stanza two, the woman realizes that the earthly world does not offer eternity and that she should find pleasure not in sensual things like coffee but in eternal spiritual things like faith in Jesus Christ and thoughts about His sacrifice and the Communion. This stanza also questions the woman’s decision to immerse herself into contemplations about Christianity offering her to muse about nature and its realities. The third stanza evokes images of paganism as the celebration of nature. In its turn, the fourth stanza expresses the poetic persona’s move away from religious realities. The fifth stanza contains the meditation about death, where death is referred to as a mother of beauty. The sixth stanza offers the view that contradicts the Christian view of the paradise. The seventh stanza conveys the author’s dream about some religion that may be created in the future and that will be pagan by nature. The eighth stanza again offers an anti-Christian view and presents the voice of the woman as coming in agreement with the outside voice.
In conclusion, the symbolism, images, and figures of speech used to create the form of the poem all work to convey the theme of a human’s relationship with divinity and nature. Likewise, the content of the poem is all structured around questioning the existing framework of relationship between humanity and God and nature. As he subtly criticizes Christianity, the author makes attempts to convince the reader that he or she should worship nature and avoid being preoccupied with the thoughts of about eternal and spiritual things.
- Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens. Infobase Publishing, 2003. Print.
- Stevens, Wallace. “Sunday Morning.” Literature: The Human Experience. Richard, Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen (Eds). Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2015.