(sub)Text: Pagan Poetics in “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was an ungainly insurance executive, but his poetry is serene and secularly reverential. In particular, his poem “Sunday Morning” seems to suggest that the rhythm of the natural world—if we give it enough rapt attention—is as good as any chant or prayer. But can a return to nature worship solve the problem of nihilism, once monotheism has been eclipsed by modernity? Are memory and desire as permanent heaven, and can the poet become their high priest? “Sunday Morning” is a poetic dialogue about these questions. And whether or not we’re satisfied with its conclusion that the world is nothing more than an “old chaos of the sun,” the poem itself is an orderly and beautiful form of communion.

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