Sunday Morning Critical Overview
by Wallace Stevens

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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Harriet Monroe, in her review of Harmonium for Poetry (the journal she founded), proclaims that readers breathe “delight . . . like a perfume” in response to the “natural effluence of [Stevens’s] own clear and untroubled and humorously philosophical delight in the beauty of things as they are.” All critics, however, were not as impressed by this volume. Joseph Miller, in his article on Stevens for Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that the few critics who paid attention to the collection dismissed it “as a product of mere dilettantism.”

After the publication of succeeding volumes of poetry, Stevens established a reputation as one of America’s finest poets that has been maintained to this day. The growing regard for his poetry was due in large part to major critical works written by Helen Vendler and Harold Bloom. Bloom wrote in Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate that the poet is “a vital part of the American mythology” and “the best and most representative American poet of our time.”

Today, Harmonium is considered to be one of his finest collections. Miller comments that the poems in this volume “reveal Stevens as a poet of delicate, but determined, sensibility, one whose perspective is precise without being precious, and whose wit is subtle but not subdued.” He writes that Stevens reveals an “extraordinary vocabulary, a flair for memorable phrasing, an accomplished sense of imagery, and the ability to both lampoon and philosophize.”

Special praise has been reserved for “Sunday Morning,” considered to be one of Stevens’ finest poems. Critics note that its importance lies in its thematic import and its expression. George and Barbara Perkins in their overview of the poem for The American Tradition in Literature applaud Stevens’ portrayal of “the perturbation and consequent seeking of ‘everyman’ who “feels the dark / Encroachment of that old catastrophe”—the traditions of Christianity. They note that Stevens appropriately leaves the questions he raises in the poem “beyond the reach of reason.”