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Symbol Analysis

The images of water are some of the most mysterious images in the poem. At one point, the protagonist dreams that she walks across the ocean to get to Palestine, but, by the end of the poem, she recognizes that she is like a person on an island, surrounded by all the strangeness of the natural world.

  • Line 8: It’s hard to catch, but there’s a simile in lines 7 and 8. When the woman starts thinking about the death of Christ, it is likened to the way "a calm darkens among water-lights." Huh? Your guess is as good as ours, but we take this to mean the way that day turns into evening along the coast of a big body of water, like the ocean. So, the first mention of water occurs just at the moment – when the poem is getting "darker." If we had a beard, we’d stroke it suggestively right now.
  • Lines 11-12: The procession is described as "winding across wide water" to get to Palestine. If we assume that the poem takes place somewhere on the east coast of America, then "wide water" might refer to the Atlantic Ocean, which is what you would have to cross to get to the Middle East. In line 12, the day is compared to the "wide water" using simile. This could mean that the passage of moments in the day brings her closer to the mystery of Christ’s death.
  • Lines 80-82: The rivers in heaven never reach the ocean, because there is no change in heaven – the water is there, but it’s not moving. Also, the poet personifies the opposite shores of the river by suggesting that they feel a "pang," or sharp pain, because they don’t touch each other. The shores are a symbol of separation.
  • Line 106: The poet does something very sneaky here. In line 12, he compares the day to "wide water" using simile. "The day is like wide water. . . ." Now, he goes one step further and turns the image of the day as water into a metaphor. The woman hears a voice that comes "from" the day, as if out of nowhere – but, because Stevens has already likened the day and water, he can write, "hears upon that water without sound." The fact that both the day and the water are silent creates suspense: we want to know what is going to break the silence, and, in the next few lines, we find out.
  • Lines 112-113: The poet ties all the water imagery together in these lines. The "wide water" becomes an image of water around an island, a metaphor for the freedom and solitude of humanity. The water stands for everything foreign to us in nature – the things we can’t understand because we’re limited by our human perspective.

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