“Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens

Richard Ellmann in the Norton Anthology of Poetry book I have says that Wallace Stevens is the third great English language poet of the 20th century, along with W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot. I chanced across his poem “Sunday Morning” after reading the online piece on Helen Vendler, Harvard poetry critic, in the NYT today. She has written a book on Stevens. Here are the first five lines of “Sunday Morning”:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

The poem has eight sections of 15 lines each. Here are the last seven lines:

Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

There’s a lot going on between these first and last lines. The poem is incredibly profound. I’m trying to understand it. More later….

Oh, and here’s the link to the entire poem: HERE

Note added 12/12/2006: Ok, now I’ve begun to lose interest in the poem because I’ve looked up all the online discussions of it and see that it has its ambiguities, but to me it’s still powerful in terms of the images and feelings it invokes.

  1. zgirl’s avatar

    Pretty much describes my Sunday mornings here on the Hill.. except he doesn’t mention “Meet The Press” and the Sunday Globe crossword.. but, maybe it’s in the middle section of the poem.

    Anyone know what “peignoir” means? Wait.. I’ll look it up.

    Top Web Results for “peignoir”

    3 results for: peignoir
    View results from: Dictionary | Thesaurus | Encyclopedia | All Reference | the Web

    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1) – Cite This Source
    peign·oir [peyn-wahr, pen-, peyn-wahr, pen-] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    1. a woman’s dressing gown.
    2. a cloak or gown of terry cloth for wear after swimming or, esp. in France, after the bath.
    [Origin: 1825–35;

  2. zgirl’s avatar

    [French, from Old French peignouer, linen covering used while combing oneself, from peigner, to comb the hair, from Latin pectin?re, from pecten, pectin-, comb.]

    (Download Now or Buy the Book)
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
    WordNet – Cite This Source

    a loose dressing gown for women [syn: negligee]

    I guess Wallace liked wearing women’s clothes.. Wait, Wallace was a man, right?

    Sorry to ruin the solemness of your Sunday morning blog. I’m bad.

  3. Mardy’s avatar

    No, no, that’s good, zgirl. I didn’t know all those definitions. Wow! Anyway, he means it’s a woman’s dressing gown. I had to look it up too! He’s talking about a woman’s thoughts on a bright, comfortable Sunday morning, although it’s not so comfortable when she dreams of visiting ancient Palestine, “Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.” That’s the last line of the first section. Good, huh? :-( :-)

  4. zgirl’s avatar

    Hey today is your 78th birthday !!

  5. nash’s avatar

    Hey dad did you catch any shots of the “pine”? Maybe a moose or bear?


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