Study Guide

Sunday Morning Religion

By Wallace Stevens

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The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound.
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre. (lines 9-15)

When the woman starts to daydream, she imagines that her oranges and cockatoo become sacrificial gifts as part of a procession of spirits to visit Christ’s tomb. Christian themes in the poem are associated with silence, like the inside of a big, empty cathedral. She feels as though the day is inviting her to make a mental journey over the ocean to get to Palestine, where Jesus was buried. Overall, it’s a pretty intimidating vision.

Divinity must live within herself:

This is her rebellion against Christian ideas of the supernatural and a God, or "divinity" which exists apart from humankind. No, she says, my own feelings and emotions are the only evidence for the divine. Do you think there is a valid point here, or is she just egotistical and focusing on herself?

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
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. (lines 31-38)

Paganism is Christianity’s rival in the poem. It is the religion of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, who represent different things and events in nature. Jove is the god of the sky, the sun, and thunder and lightning. The poet thinks that ancient people came up with the gods to fill a need or "desire" that they had to explain nature.

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. (lines 91-95)

Did you think an "orgy" had something to do with sex? Well, sometimes it does, but it’s also a general word to refer to pagan religious rituals. These rituals often involved singing, dancing, drinking, and, sometimes, sex. We don’t think this one is very sexual, though – well, except for the fact that the men are naked. Anyway, the pagan orgy is a way of celebrating nature, just as going to church for Christians is a way of celebrating God.

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay." (lines 106-109)

In the final stanza, the woman hears a voice that says that Christ’s tomb is not a place where ghosts and supernatural spirits hang out – it’s just the grave of a guy named Jesus. Essentially, she’s imagining that the tomb in Palestine is a part of nature, like any other tomb, and not a special place outside of nature. Should we read this as her turning away from the Christian religion?

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