Sunday Morning (poem)

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"Sunday Morning" is a poem from Wallace Stevens' first book of poetry, Harmonium. Published in part in the November 1915 issue of Poetry, then in full in 1923 in Harmonium, it is now in the public domain.[1]


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.
 She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
 Encroachment of that old catastrophe,


 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.

About this poem Stevens wrote, in the terse and bearish tone he reserved for such commentary, that it was "simply an expression of paganism."[2] If so, it is a refined post-Christian paganism imbued with Stevens's characteristic infusion of the natural order with transcendental qualities. It defines itself by sympathetic reaction to the Christian impulse for immortality and a transcendent realm.[3][4] The woman with whom the poet is in dialogue dreams and feels the old catastrophe of Jesus's sacrifice, and is tempted to see it as a token of "imperishable bliss", but she is eventually brought round:

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."

The flight of casual flocks of pigeons at the conclusion of the poem takes them downward to darkness, not beyond the sky. That moment of their dive that the poet captures is immortal in the only sense that matters.

In the original publication in Poetry magazine, however, the stanza with "casual flocks of pigeons," so apt a conclusion, was actually Stanza Two.

Buttel reads "Sunday Morning" as subtly refuting the Attendant Spirit in Milton's Comus, a poem which asserts the heavenly over the earthly.[5] He also sees the poem as establishing Matisse as "a kindred spirit" to Stevens, in that both artists "transform a pagan joy of life into highly civilized terms."[6]


  1. ^ Bates, p. 126. Buttel p. 230. See also Librivox [1] and the Poetry web site.[2] Editor Harriet Monroe chose five of the eight cantos Stevens sent her for the journal Poetry in 1915.
  2. ^ Holly Stevens, p. 290.
  3. ^ The Voice of Religious Questioning: Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning" [3].
  4. ^ Perspectives in American Literature Chapter 7: Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) [4].
  5. ^ Buttel, p. 223
  6. ^ Buttel, pp. 157-8


  • Bates, Milton. Wallace Stevens: A Mythology of Self. 1985: University of California Press
  • Buttel, Robert. Wallace Stevens: The Making of Harmonium. 1967: Princeton University Press.
  • Stevens, Holly. Letters of Wallace Stevens. 1966: University of California Press.