by Wallace Stevens
Stanza II Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
- Well, it turns out she’s not just going to passively follow Christ across the ocean, after all. While she seemed passive during the dream of the first stanza, in the second stanza, she shows her skepticism about the Christian faith. Even though the stanza is written in the third person, we should read these lines as her direct thoughts. Thus, "Why should I give my bounty to the dead?" The poet is speaking on her behalf.
- "Bounty" refers to an abundance or a generous amount of something. The protagonist of the poem imagines her oranges and cockatoo as her "bounty" – they are luxuries that she can afford.
- If she were to pray or go to church this morning, she would be symbolically "giving up" these luxuries, as if she were giving them to Christ or dead spirits.
- Throughout history, many cultures have had traditions where people donate some of their bounty – be it food, animals, or money – to the dead in order to keep them satisfied. She imagines that she is being asked to participate in this tradition, and her response is, "Um, I think I’ll keep my oranges and my bird, thanks."
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
- More skeptical thoughts. She recognizes that the only time she is ever troubled by thoughts of Jesus Christ is when she takes her mind off nature and her immediate surroundings. Christ only "comes to her" in dreams and other flights of fancy.
- She is basically wondering: "If Christ is so glorious and powerful, why doesn’t he stay in my thoughts all the time? Why don’t I ever think about him when I’m just sitting around drinking my coffee?"
- We may think this is a silly complaint for her to have, but it boils down to the fact that she doesn’t sense the presence of a Christian God in the world.
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?
- She thinks she has all she needs right here in front of her on Earth: her fruit, her bird, the sun. And even if she didn’t have these things, she could still take comfort in "any balm or beauty of the earth," which basically means anything that soothes ("balm") or pleases ("beauty") her.
- She’s not just a hedonist, however, or someone who lives for pleasure alone. She seeks genuine spiritual "comfort"; she just thinks she can find it in the natural world. She can love or "cherish" things in nature just as much as she enjoys the idea of "heaven" or an afterlife.
- However, two things seem to hint that she hasn’t quite convinced herself of this.
- First, she phrases her opinion as a question – a rhetorical question, but a question nonetheless.
- Second, the only specific things she can think of to include as "comforts" are the things that happen to be right there with her – namely, the orange and the green cockatoo.
- But, what happens when the morning is over, when the clouds cover the sun and she has to go back inside?
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.
- The woman sounds much more confident in these lines.
- She declares straight out that God or "divinity" isn’t to be found in comforting thoughts about Christ or heaven: it "lives within herself." After all, even these thoughts have their origins in her, not the other way around.
- She isn’t the first person to make this argument. The British Romantic poets in the 19th century, for example, argued that the human imagination is the source of all lofty ideas about God, myth, and religion.
- So, if "divinity" lives within herself, then what is "divinity"? It turns out not to have anything to do with God or a higher power. Instead, she interprets it to be her most powerful experiences of the mind, including "passions," "moods," "grievings," "elations" (a very intense form of happiness), "emotions," "pleasures," "pains," and "remembering" or memory.
- By way of example, she matches these different psychological experiences to their inspirations in life and nature, such as "rain," "snow," "loneliness," "forest blooms" or flowers, "autumn nights," and the branches of trees in the summer and winter.
- Clearly, this divinity of hers isn’t just one thing. It’s the many different but powerful feelings she gets from being in or around nature. When you think in poetry, you get to redefine words like "divinity."
These are the measure destined for her soul.
- She decides that the intense feelings she gets from being in nature will be the "measures" of her "soul." She will judge herself and her life based on these experiences, and not on whether she has prayed enough or followed the rules of a particular religion.
- Her own feelings and memories will be the yardstick of her happiness.