J. Hillis Miller: On "Sunday Morning"

If the natural activity of the mind is to make unreal representations, these are still representations of the material world. "The clouds preceded us / There was a muddy centre before we breathed"; matter is prior to mind and in some sense determines it. So, in "Sunday Morning," the lady's experience of the dissolution of the gods leaves her living in a world of exquisite particulars, the physical realities of the new world: "Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail / Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; / Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness." This physical world, an endless round of birth, death, and the seasons, is more lasting than any interpretation of it. Religions, myths, philosophies, and cultures are all fictions and pass away, but "April's green endures." "Sunday Morning" is Stevens' most eloquent description of the moment when the gods dissolve. Bereft of the supernatural, man does not lie down paralyzed in despair. He sings the creative hymns of a new culture, the culture of those who are "wholly human" and know themselves. This humanism is based on man's knowledge that "the final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly." There is "nothing else"--the alternatives are to be nothing or to accept a fiction. To discover that there never has been any celestial world is a joyful liberation, and man says of himself: "This happy creature--It is he that invented the Gods. It is he that put into their mouths the only words they have ever spoken!"

From Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers. Copyright © 1966 by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


Title J. Hillis Miller: On "Sunday Morning" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author J. Hillis Miller Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Nov 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers
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