by Wallace Stevens
Where It All Goes Down
After a long, cold winter, it’s finally springtime in some pretty New England town. (At least, we’re guessing it’s New England, because there are wild berries and Stevens lived there for most of his life.) It’s Sunday – maybe Easter Sunday – and a woman has just woken up. She’s eating coffee and oranges in a loose, comfortable dress, and it’s sunny and beautiful outside. Maybe she’s in a breakfast room with big windows, or maybe she’s outside on the patio. The whole scene looks like normal, suburban America, except the tropical cockatoo on the rug might be a sign that the woman has an adventurous side.
All of a sudden, everything gets dark and quiet. We go from suburban America to the coast of the ocean, where lights of some kind are shining. On the other side of the ocean: Palestine, where Jesus Christ is buried. Should she cross? This is the big question.
While the woman tries to make a decision, the poem takes a big mental trip through the woman’s past memories and future desires, kind of like George Bailey’s adventure from the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We get to encounter not one, but several, versions of heaven – but all of them are kind of disappointing. One of them has delicious fruit to eat, but the fruit never falls from the tree, so what’s the point?
We also get to see a pagan ritual where naked men sing to the sun and dance around in a circle. After visiting all these places and more, the woman decides not to cross to Palestine, after all. So, we wind up back at home again, at a pretty little house in New England. It’s evening, and quails are calling out from the trees. All of a sudden, a group of pigeons appears in the sky, swooping and turning this way and that. After this acrobatic performance, they spread their wings and fly off into the darkness.