Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens

Sunday Morning
by Wallace Stevens
The poem asks the question, "What is the relationship between death and beauty?" Does death degrade beauty or enhance it? The title refers to the resurrection on Easter Sunday, how death led to a greater beauty. Some critics suggest that the poem is a denunciation of the Easter resurrection; rather than being at church, the character in stanza one is lounging amidst the sensual beauty of her surroundings.

In stanza one, Stevens offers a picture of beauty. Remember that his wife was a beauty queen and not a great wit; she didn't appreciate or understand his poems.

In all of the following stanzas save for the final two, he asks a question and then answers it with imagery that implies an idea.

In St. II his question is: "Why should beauty die?" He answers it with a series of questions and images that offer this idea, I think: Divinity (which is linked to death) comes to us in material beauty when we're alive; likewise, it's this earthly beauty which offers us a glimpse of the beauty that comes after death; the final images imply that beauty (both temporal and divine) lies in all things.

In St. III he asks "Isn't God separate from mankind?" in the first three lines. He answers this statement/question with images that imply we our humanity is intertwined with God's divinity. He asks a second question here: "Are we too human to reach heaven?" He answers it with an enigmatic "all will be resolved at the end."

In St. IV he asks, "What if natural beauty disappears?" and answers it by implying that all things pass; nothing beautiful lasts.

In St. V he asks, "Don't we need something beautiful on earth to last forever to remind us of divine beauty?" He answers with "Tough. Death is the mother of beauty -- nothing is beautiful without its impermanence on earth; the only permanence comes after death; interestingly, he links sex to death in this stanza as do so many other carpe diem poets.

In St. VI he asks "Is there any change after we die?" or, "Is there a second death or any decay after we die?" He answers with a series of questions that imply that the beauty of the afterlife is indescribable and transcendent and is the source of earthly beauty (kinda like Plato's cave metaphor).

In St. VII he stops asking questions and offers pictures of how we should worship -- sexual, primal, violent. He ends this stanza by suggesting that friendships now are better because of death. If you saw Shadowlands (movie) there's a great line that echoes this: "The suffering in the future makes our happiness now possible." or words to that effect. Ask the kids who saw the play if they remember this line. I don't know if it was in the play, though.

In St. VIII he suggests that Christ and the angels who were in the tomb on Easter "Sunday Morning" are no longer there -- they are part of the divine beauty in heaven now. And while beauty is underfood (with the deer and quail -- remember his great poem "13 ways of looking at a blackbird" and the wonderful stanza "O thin men of Haddam,/ Why do you imagine golden birds?/ Do you not see how the blackbird/ Walks around the feet/ Of the women arounnd you?") He ends this stanza with an image of the dying birds to show how death and beauty are inextricably linked.

In short, the poem is one of those "conversations between self and soul" that Donne and Frost and lots of other poets used to write.


Jennie S. Bev said…
I admire your blog. Not many Indonesians have such a strong command of written English. Kudos for your hard work.

Your blog is a fine example for being an ambassador of Indonesia through one's writing.

Best wishes,
Jennie S. Bev
Poerwarno said…
Thanks for your encouraging comment... I'm nothing but a baby in my field...

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