Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sun Stone is essentially a quest or a pilgrimage in which the unnamed speaker attempts to define his identity. Ostensibly the subject is love, or, more specifically, the beloved. Transcending the experience of love, however, is the real theme of the poem: time and its relationship to reality. In describing his own feelings of love and those of lovers in general, the poem’s speaker attempts to describe love in terms of its transience and permanence, illusion and reality. In the poem, the speaker attacks the moment and surrounds it in his quest for its permanence—a permanence that he feels is capable of revealing his true identity to himself.

Throughout the poem, there are many reminders of time’s circularity, which is both a dilemma and a symbol of disorientation. Whether the present is meaningless because it is prolonged interminably, or whether events, both personal and historical, lack significance because they are endlessly repeated, the poet’s reaction to time’s circularity is summed up in line 498: “each minute is nothing forever.” The first lines of the final stanza express his reaction to the dilemma: “I want to continue, to go farther, and I cannot:/ the moment plunged into another and another.”

Considered against the backdrop of linear time, which extends itself in measured units both forward and backward, is the poet’s (and the Aztecs’) conception of time as circular. Yet the awareness of the moment that is simultaneously first, last, and unique brings no resolution, no peace of discovery. On the contrary, it implies to the poet that there is an ultimate reality, a timeless realm, which he searches for beyond all other realities, and which is evoked by several experiences of love dramatized in the second half of the poem. The brief attention that the poet gives to the concept of the timeless paradise is in inverse relation to its importance as the poem’s emotional goal, which is defined in the penultimate stanza (lines 562-570). Above all other descriptions of time in the poem, this one holds the most abiding hope of a final fulfillment.