Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
1Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
2Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
3And the green freedom of a cockatoo
4Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
5The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
6She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
7Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
8As a calm darkens among water-lights.
9The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
10Seem things in some procession of the dead,
11Winding across wide water, without sound.
12The day is like wide water, without sound,
13Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
14Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
15Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
16Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
17What is divinity if it can come
18Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
19Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
20In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
21In any balm or beauty of the earth,
22Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
23Divinity must live within herself:
24Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
25Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
26Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
27Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
28All pleasures and all pains, remembering
29The bough of summer and the winter branch.
30These are the measures destined for her soul.
31Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
32No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
33Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
34He moved among us, as a muttering king,
35Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
36Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
37With heaven, brought such requital to desire
38The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
39Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
40The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
41Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
42The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
43A part of labor and a part of pain,
44And next in glory to enduring love,
45Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
46She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
47Before they fly, test the reality
48Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
49But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
50Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
51There is not any haunt of prophesy,
52Nor any old chimera of the grave,
53Neither the golden underground, nor isle
54Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
55Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
56Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
57As April's green endures; or will endure
58Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
59Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
60By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
61She says, "But in contentment I still feel
62The need of some imperishable bliss."
63Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
64Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
65And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
66Of sure obliteration on our paths,
67The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
68Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
69Whispered a little out of tenderness,
70She makes the willow shiver in the sun
71For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
72Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
73She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
74On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
75And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
76Is there no change of death in paradise?
77Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
78Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
79Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
80With rivers like our own that seek for seas
81They never find, the same receding shores
82That never touch with inarticulate pang?
83Why set the pear upon those river banks
84Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
85Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
86The silken weavings of our afternoons,
87And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
88Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
89Within whose burning bosom we devise
90Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
91Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
92Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
93Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
94Not as a god, but as a god might be,
95Naked among them, like a savage source.
96Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
97Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
98And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
99The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
100The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
101That choir among themselves long afterward.
102They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
103Of men that perish and of summer morn.
104And whence they came and whither they shall go
105The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
106She hears, upon that water without sound,
107A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
108Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
109It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
110We live in an old chaos of the sun,
111Or old dependency of day and night,
112Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
113Of that wide water, inescapable.
114Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
115Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
116Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
117And, in the isolation of the sky,
118At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
119Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
120Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
1] In a letter to L. W. Payne, Jr., of March 31, 1928, Stevens draws attention to the poem's "paganism" (Letters, 250).
peignoir: loose dressing gown of a woman.
3] cockatoo: colourful and noisy parrot.
5] The Christian mass remembers Christ's crucifixion by sharing his body and blood as bread and wine with the faithful.
15] sepulchre: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre shelters the tomb in which Jesus' body was laid on Good Friday and discovered missing on the Sunday afterward.
31] Jove: Jupiter.
35] hinds: farm workers, here shepherds.
38] star: pointer to the birthplace of the Christ-child, as seen by the shepherds and the three kings.
52] chimera: bad dream, literally a she-monster whose body, in Greek myth, consists of a goat's torso, a lion's head, and a snake's tail.
54] gat: betook themselves.
74] disregarded plate: Stevens had to explain to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, that he meant, by this, family silverware that was no longer used (Letters,183-84).
100] serafin: seraphim, angels.
119] undulations: wave-like rise-and-falls.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services,
University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Harmonium (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, [September 7], 1923): 100-04. York University Library Special Collections 734
First publication date:
Publication date note: Poetry 7 (November 1915): 81-83 (missing three sections)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/14
Composition date note: (Richardson, I, 425)
Form note: 15-line stanzas of unrhyming pentameter
Other poems by Wallace Stevens