Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Sunday Morning” is an exploration of the position that religious piety should be replaced by a fully lived life. Part of the poem was published in 1915, but the whole was not printed until Harmonium came out. In its final form, “Sunday Morning” is a series of ten fifteen-line stanzas of blank verse. The argument of the poem is just that: an argument between a woman, who feels guilty about not going to church and enjoying “coffee and oranges in a sunny chair” instead, and another voice, presumably that of the poet, which tries to persuade her to give up her attachment to dead things and dead ideas. The focus alternates from what is happening in her mind—her objections and preoccupations—and his answers to her.
The woman is interrupted in her enjoyment of the “complacencies of the peignoir” by reflections on death and religion that remind her that the pleasant particulars of the moment are only transitory. Then the other voice asks, “Why should she give her bounty to the dead?” No divinity is worthwhile if it comes “only in silent shadows and dreams.” One should worship where one lives: within and as part of nature. The woman should accept her own divinity as part and reflection of nature.
The woman’s interlocutor then thinks about the development of godhood, from Jove, who was fully inhuman, through Christ, who was partly human, to the new god appropriate to the present, who would be wholly human. With a...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
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