#1. Sunday Morning Poetry: The New Humanist Church

March 18, 2018








In this inaugural episode of Sunday Morning Poetry I go through the poem "Sunday Morning" By Wallace Stevens. This humanist poem rejects Christian doctrine while celebrating spiritual values. How can an atheist pray? Poetically


Sunday Morning





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. 





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. 





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. 





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. 





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 fulfilment 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. 





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 the 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. 





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. 





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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