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In Wallace Stevens's masterful and eloquent poem, "Sunday Morning," the first two stanzas tell the reader about whom and what the poem is concerned: an older woman has death on her mind, and all the religious questions associated with it. The conflict in her reflections is between the naturalistic and the "ancient sacrifice," which is a way of describing the central event of Christianity. Thus, the central opposition in Wallace's poem is between the natural/pagan and the supernatural/Christian views. This opposition is resolved by the argument of the speaker who convinces the woman contains spirituality itself.
In the first stanza, a woman lounges in her peignoir on a Sunday morning, enjoying the natural beauty around her, enjoying her coffee and oranges, the "green freedom of a cockatoo." But her reveries are broken by this Sunday being Easter Sunday; with this occasion comes
Encroachment of that old catastrophe...
Dominion of the blood and spulchre.
In the second stanza, the speaker of the poem questions her rejection of the Christian occasion:
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
The speaker contends that she can find a connection between the religious and the natural worlds by her becoming "the book," so to speak:
Shall she not find in comforts of the son,...
Things to be cherished like the thought of heave?
Divinity must live within herself
In the third stanza, the speaker expands his religious focus to the Greek god Jove, whose blood "commingling, virginal/With heaven." Then, the speaker links Jove's mingling with heaven to the birth of Christ by connecting it to the star that guided the Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus. Since both myths are disconnected from humanity, man can find the divine in the natural world.
The woman's voice returns in the next two stanzas as she questions the argument of the speaker/poet that earthly pleasures can provide spiritual fulfillment. While acknowledging that natural beauty "has endured," he contends that the eternal beauty of nature is evident in its renewal each spring--"As April's green endures." The "chimera of the grave," the dark dreams of Christ's crucifixion, will not last as will the magnificence of the natural world.
When the woman complains,
'But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss'
the speaker counters, "Death is the mother of beauty." He explains this paradox by explaining that the prospect of death makes people appreciate beauty/love all the more. The next stanza continues this argument.
In the seventh stanza, the speaker suggests an alternative to traditional worship, likening the dance of the pagans to "heavenly worship."
Convinced of the speaker's argument, the woman hears
A voice that cries, 'The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of jesus, where he lay.'
She acknowleges that the grave of Jesus is not where there are any mystical spirits. So, she turns with the speaker to the "old chaos of the sun," and the beginnings and ends--"Ambiguous undulations." The woman is released from the restrictions of the religious world and embraces the "spontaneous cries" of nature where pigeons make their "ambiguous undulations."
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