Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

By Wallace Stevens


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,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.


Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.


Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.


She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.


She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.


Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.


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.”
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
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.

Summary of Sunday Morning

  • Popularity of “Sunday Morning”: Written by Wallace Stevens, a great American modernist poet, “Sunday Morning” saw its first appearance in 1915 in the magazine However, it did not cause any uproar in the literary circles. Later, it was included in the first poetry collection of Stevens. Critics found an occasion to praise the young poet and establish his reputation as a good modernist poet. Since then, the poem has become his representative poetic piece, inviting praises from the poet for its beauty and complexity. It has also found its place in the major world anthologies and school textbooks.
  • Sunday Morning” As a Representative of Memories: “Sunday Morning” as a representative work of modernist poetry demonstrates the use of complex language, fragmented images, and philosophical themes. It explores questions of religion, spirituality, and the human experience through the lens of a feminine routine of Sunday morning, showing a woman moving between her thoughts and her mundane existence. Stevens’s use of various literary devices, such as images and symbols, shows the complexity of the poem. Being a representative modernist piece, it exemplifies the modernist trend in its presentation of individual experience, fragmented images, and the search for meaning.
  • Major Themes in “Sunday Morning”: “Sunday Morning” presents several thematic strands, such as the search for meaning in an irreligious world, the beauty and the mystery of nature, and the transient nature of life. Stevens explores the idea of a post-religious world where individuals are grappling with the enigma of finding the purpose and meaning of their existence. This theme is evident in lines 16-23, where the speaker questions the ideas of divinity and wonders if earthly comforts and pleasures could be substitutes for the thoughts of heaven. The beauty of nature is another major theme in the poem that Stevens shows through the use of different images of color, seasons, and scenes. He presents nature as a source of solace and aesthetic pleasure, offering a kind of spiritual experience. The transient and fleeting nature of life Stevens explores emphasizes the ephemeral qualities of existence, comparing it to “wide water, without sound” (line 12) and the passing of dreaming feet (line 13). This theme highlights the impermanence of human life and the inevitability of mortality.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Sunday Morning

In “Sunday Morning,” Wallace Stevens skillfully used various literary devices to fill his verses with deeper meanings. Some of the significant literary devices are as follows.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words such as “The holy hush of ancient sacrifice” where /h/ shows this repetition. Another one is in lines 11 and 12 /w/ sound is repeated in “wide water.”
  2. Allusion: This literary device shows a reference to a well-known person, place, event, or work of art. For example, “Over the seas, to silent Palestine” shows a reference to “silent Palestine,” alluding to the historical and religious significance of the region.
  3. Assonance: This literary device shows the repetition of similar vowel sounds within words in close proximity. For example, /i/ sound is repeated in line 72 “Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet,” showing a harmonious effect, emphasizing the tranquility of the scene.
  4. Consonance: This literary device shows the repetition of consonant sounds in a line such as the sound of /d/ in “Winding across wide water, without sound / The day is like wide water, without sound.” It creates musical quality in the lines.
  5. Enjambment: This literary device shows the continuation of a sentence or clause without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza. For example, the lines 13 and 14 show enjambment such as “Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet / Over the seas, to silent Palestine.” It shows thought and syntax continuing seamlessly from one line to the next.
  6. Hyperbole: This literary device shows exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. For example, “Passions of rain” or “gusty elations” in lines 24 and 25 are hyperboles as no such passions exist.
  7. Imagery: This literary device shows the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses, creating vivid mental pictures. For example, “The bough of summer and the winter branch. / These are the measures destined for her soul” show the setting of the poem through clear images.
  8. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech that compares two, unlike things without using “like” or “as.” For example, “Death is the mother of beauty” shows death metaphorically compared to a mother, suggesting that beauty arises from the cycle of life and death.
  9. Personification: It means attributing human qualities or characteristics to non-human entities. For example, “Ambiguous undulations as they sink” shows pigeons personified.
  10. Repetition: It is the use of words, phrases, or lines for emphasis or rhythmic effect. For example, the repetition of “wide water, without sound” creates rhythm.
  11. Simile: It is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things using “like” or “as.” For example, the comparison of April’s grass to the remembrance of birds in lines 57 and 58 and the day compared to a river in lines 12 and 13 are similes.
  12. Symbolism: The use of an object or action to represent abstract ideas or qualities, such as rivers, seas, and trees, that symbolize human desires and aspirations, constantly seeking fulfillment and purpose.
  13. Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole or the whole is used to represent a part. For example, “The windy lake wherein their lord delights” shows “windy lake” representing nature as a whole.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Sunday Morning

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the use of the type of language. The poem shows the use of formal and poetic language.
  2. Meter: It means the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. The poem shows the use of the iambic pentameter meter, with ten syllables per line and a stress on every other syllable.
  3. Irregular Rhyme Scheme: It means there is no rhyme scheme, or sometimes some verses rhyme and others do not. This poem shows the use of an irregular rhyme scheme.
  4. Poem/Free Verse: “Sunday Morning” is a free verse poem, meaning it does not follow a specific rhyme or metrical pattern.
  5. Stanza: The poem is divided into eleven stanzas, each containing varying numbers of lines. The stanzas do not follow a specific pattern.
  6. Tone: The tone of “Sunday Morning” is contemplative and philosophical as the speaker reflects on the nature of existence and the role of religion in our lives.

Quotes to be Used

This quote is appropriate to use when reflecting on the ephemeral nature of life and how it gives beauty and meaning to our experiences. It could be used in a eulogy or funeral speech or in a personal essay about finding beauty in unexpected places.

Death is the mother of beauty