Sunday Morning Questions and Answers
by Wallace Stevens

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What is the woman contemplating in the poem Sunday Morning? Please discuss the title.

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This is a very complicated poem which asks big questions about life, death, faith, and the promise of paradise. The woman in the poem, having chosen to spend Sunday morning at home in her "peignoir" instead of in church, is contemplating the Sabbath in her own way and questioning what it means. In the second stanza, she asks why she should give "her bounty," or her dedication, to what is "dead," implying dead religions or dry faiths, determining instead that possibly "divinity must live within herself." The woman contemplates the divinity which exists in the natural world, in "the bough of summer and the winter branch," and seems to be committing herself to finding her soul's sustenance in these things, rather than in traditional faiths.

She goes on to contemplate older religions and gods, such as Jove, and then she raises another question: will this world "be all of paradise that we shall know?" That is, is there a life beyond this life, and what is paradise, anyway? Observing that "death is the mother of beauty"—or, that things are only beautiful because they are temporary—she questions whether any paradise that does not know death, where the flowers are always in bloom, could really be a paradise at all, or if it is simply a mockery of one.

In the final stanza, we see the woman, despite her wrestlings with her faith, returning to the thought of Jesus, as she hears a voice upon the water, reminding her of Jesus's tomb in Palestine. Ultimately, however, her contemplations do not lead her to resolution or satisfaction. They are, as yet, "unescapable." The woman is unable to separate herself completely from the religion she has known but is also unsure how far it satisfies her.

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The title of Sunday Morning suggests for the reader going to church, as the Sunday morning service is an important part of the practices of most Christian denominations. The woman, however, is not in church, but still in a nightgown, looking out over the sea. As in many modernist poems, we see here a simultaneous breakdown of religious certainty and ritual combined with a nostalgia for an earlier simpler life and belief.

The women, still only half-awake, looks out to the sea (perhaps an Arnoldian sea of faith) and pictures the death of Jesus in Palestine. She wonders whether she should believe in the story of the risen Jesus or whether divinity os pantheist or immanent. She thinks about whether the divine can be found in nature as opposed to church.

In the end, she is drawn to  the conclusion that Jesus (or the Christian God) is genuinely dead to her, but nature holds no solution either as the birds descend down to darkness at the end of the day.

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