by Wallace Stevens
Stanza III Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
- Okay, this stanza is really hard, mostly because it has confusing references to Greek and Roman mythology. As always, the rule with Stevens is: when you don’t get something, focus on the sound of the language, which is at least as important as the meaning.
- So, Jove. Who is this guy? "Jove" is the Roman name for Zeus, the head honcho of the gods, who lives in the sky and who sometimes throws thunderbolts down at the earth. You probably know him already as Jupiter: it’s the same guy.
- Why bring up the gods of myth when the poem has been so focused on Christianity? Because Greek and Roman myth is the "other" big religion in the history of Western civilization. Stevens is basically introducing a rival religion onto the scene in order to contrast it to Christianity. (We realize that this perspective ignores other important faiths like Judaism and Islam, but Stevens simply didn’t know very much about these religions.)
- The worship of mythological gods is referred to as paganism, although we should keep in mind that this term was an insult thought up by Christians. Because the Greek and Roman gods had their origins in natural phenomena like the sky and thunder, paganism is often described the worship of nature. So, you can see how it might relate to our character, who finds "divinity" in the experience of nature.
- A lot of the information we get about Jove in this stanza is meant to contrast with Christ. Unlike Christ, who had a "human birth" from his mom, Mary, Jove was born from gods and had an "inhuman birth."
- But, Stevens has another trick up his sleeve. He’s not just talking about the literal birth of Jove, the god, he’s also talking about the birth of the idea of Jove; the origin of the myth. But, we’ll get to that soon.
- One last thing to mention: we can’t be sure who’s speaking in this stanza. In the last stanza, we were clearly in our character’s thoughts, but, now, it’s more like the poet is speaking directly to us or to the woman having breakfast.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
- These lines provide more reasons why Jove is "inhuman," unlike Christ, who was both fully human and fully divine.
- Jove was never "suckled" by a human mother as a tyke, and he wasn’t raised in a "sweet land," as Jesus was raised in the fertile Galilee.
- And Jove has a "mythy mind" – as in, his mind is full of myths. He might represent the source and creator of all myths – even the myth of Jove.
- Are you confused yet?
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.
- Okay, we get it: Jove didn’t have a normal, human "birth." How did he come into existence, then?
- Here is where Stevens pulls a bait-and-switch on us. In these lines he switches form talking about the Jove, the god, and starts talking about Jove, the myth. But, he talks about the myth as if it were still the god.
- Here goes: even though Jove was "inhuman," he still "moved among us" on earth. He was there all along, but nobody recognized him. It’s as if a king were marching among his followers or "hinds" (the people who walk "behind" him). The followers don’t recognize him, so the king is back there "muttering" with impatience.
- Now, here’s our interpretation of the bait-and-switch. The "hinds" are just like us – normal, everyday humans – except they lived a long time ago, when the myth first became known.
- And "Jove" is the universal power of the imagination, responsible for all myths.
- All humans have this power of imagination, but they haven’t always recognized it. They haven’t recognized that divinity lives within themselves. So, the human mind is part-human and part-divinity, but the two seem to have a hard time joining together, except on rare occasions in history.
- When the myth of Jove was created, though, it was like the marriage of our heavenly and human parts. These two parts of ourselves "mated" (weird), and the "commingling" of the "blood" resulted in a kind of birth: the birth of the myth.
- The evidence for this birth wasn’t a little baby boy like Jesus; rather, it was the "star" of Jupiter.
- The ordinary folks or "hinds" who came up with the myth of Jove didn’t even realize that they had come up with it. All they knew was that, suddenly, there was a new star in the sky called Jupiter.
- Still, they were pleased because this star fulfilled or "requited" a secret "desire" that they had all along. We might describe this desire as the unity of man and nature. Phew.
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?
- In the lines above, we learn that ordinary people are responsible for giving "birth" to the myth of Jove. On a symbolic level, they give life or "blood" to the myth.
- By this logic, all of us now living are descended from those ancient people, so we’re related by blood: their bloodline is ours. Sweet.
- So, when the poet asks, "Shall our blood fail?" he is questioning whether our stories and myths about nature might fail to give us the same kind of spiritual comfort as the belief in paradise. That’s option one.
- Option two is if our knowledge about the origins of myth allows us to view nature as a kind of paradise.
- But, even if we view nature and the earth as being like paradise, there might be that lingering doubt: "Is this it?" Is this "all of paradise that we shall know?" (We think this part of the poem demands a song by slack rockers The Strokes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n2ijrmqY8s).
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.
- But, the world-as-paradise dream clearly hasn’t happened yet. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be sitting here on a beautiful "Sunday Morning" fretting about it. All the poet can do is hope. That’s what he does in these lines.
- He tries to imagine what the sky would look like if we could view nature and the earth as a kind of heaven. For one thing, he thinks it would be "friendlier." Well that’s certainly a good thing.
- Line 43, however, is a mystery. Does he really think the sky in paradise would be a part of "labor" (work) and "pain"?
- That doesn’t sound so great to us, but maybe Stevens is saying that there couldn’t be paradise unless we had to work and sweat for it. It’s like eating a big meal after a really hard workout: it just wouldn’t taste as good if you weren’t tired to the bone.
- Or, maybe he means that the sky will be "friendlier" because it won’t have all these expectations of perfection. Instead, it will be "a part of" both labor and pain – a part of the natural world, and not some place that divides us from a better world.
- Either way, by line 44 we’re back on track with the good stuff: the poet thinks the sky in a natural paradise will be almost as good as ("next in glory to") "enduring love." Awww.
- And, finally, in line 45, we get a comparison to the blue sky we see now, which is not as good because it "divides" heaven from earth and is "indifferent" to us and our fuzzy emotions, like love. To be "indifferent" is to not care about something.
- And thus ends the hardest stanza in the poem.