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Quotes

Quote #1

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. (lines 1-5)

"Complacency" is a kind of happiness. It’s less like you’re ecstatic and jumping up and down with joy, and more like you’re satisfied and content. At the beginning of the poem, the woman feels complacent. She’s sitting in her pajamas eating a late breakfast, and her pet cockatoo hops around on a rug. She doesn’t want this peaceful moment to end. But, behind all these happy thoughts, she feels the pull of Christian duty. The happy morning just holds "the holy hush of ancient sacrifice" at bay.

Quote #2

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? (lines 20-22)

Can her orange and cockatoo, or any other natural comfort, promise as much happiness as "the thought of heaven?" The world is filled with things that make us forget about pain ("balm") and give us pleasure ("beauty"), but heaven is supposed to another kind of happiness entirely – a place where there is no loss or pain to begin with. The problem with heaven, of course, is that it’s just a "thought," as long as she is still on earth.

Quote #3

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?" (lines 46-50)

"Contentment" is a lot like "complacency" – it’s not the most powerful form of happiness, but it basically means that things are good enough where you feel at peace and have nothing to complain about. The woman remembers a time when she felt this way while looking at birds in "misty fields." Unfortunately, it seems to her that this happiness depends on things outside her control – the birds, the fields, the time of day. She worries that, when these things are gone, her happiness will be gone, too. These lines imply that she also worries about the end of her pleasant Sunday morning breakfast.

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