December 2006

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Sunday Morning


  • I.
    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.

    II.
    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.

    III.
    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.

    IV.
    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.

    V.
    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.

    VI.
    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.

    VII.
    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 feel shall manifest.

    VIII.
    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.

    ~Wallace Stevens

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