by Wallace Stevens
Stanza VII Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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.
- Finally, the scene changes.
- If the last stanza was focused on what Christian heaven might be like, in this stanza, we’re back to talking about paganism, its rival.
- The poet is imagining a pagan ritual or "orgy." You’ve probably heard "orgy" used in, ahem, a different sense, but the origin of the word is in describing crazy pagan rituals that often involved dancing, wine, and, yes, sometimes sex.
- In this ritual, a group of naked men are singing and dancing in a ring on a summer morning. They are chanting out in celebration or "devotion" to the sun.
- These men are nature-worshippers, and the poet is quick to point out that the sun is not a "god," but only like a god. The sun is the "source" of all life, but it can also be "savage," or wild and unpredictable.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
- The chant of the pagan men is "a chant of paradise," because it treats nature like a god and the earth like heaven.
- But, as with Jove in the stanza III, the godlike qualities of nature and the sun have their origins in the human imagination.
- It is the symbolic "blood" of the chanting men that brings the sky to life. Without the men to praise it, the sun would be just a hot ball in 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.
- The poet imagines that different parts of the nature world join in the chant with the men, in praise of "their lord," the pagan nature-god (which, we remember, isn’t really a god at all).
- The noise of the wind in the lake, the rustling trees which sound like angels ("seraphin"), and the echoes of the hills: all of these seem to add to the music of the morning chant. This natural symphony continues to play even after the men stop chanting.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
- Due to their chanting, the pagan men experience a "heavenly fellowship" with the summer morning.
- The men can experience this great feeling because they accept that they will "perish," or die. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to live in the moment, because they would be too busy waiting for the afterlife.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feel shall manifest.
- The lines are another way of saying that the men live in the present moment, rather than in the past or the future.
- "Whence" and "whither" are just fancy words for "where."
- The poet says that there is no way to know where the men came from, or where they will go – except for the evidence of dew on their feet. Because they are walking barefoot, they will take the dew from the wet, morning ground with them when they go.
- But, dew evaporates, and it doesn’t really provide any useful information about where someone has been.
- The poet is really saying that the presence of the men on this summer morning is all that matters. The men are not concerned with being remembered or with immortality.