Matisse - Fruit and Coffeepot

Henri Matisse – Fruit and Coffeepot (1898)

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.

It’s was clear enough this past week for me to have had the chance of seeing some of the meteors known as the Leonid meteor shower. I went outside and stared up into the deep, dark sky. But I didn’t see any shooting stars or fireballs.

Something I did see this past week was an article that noted that the poem “Sunday Morning” is 100 years old. That really surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me, because Wallace Stevens was writing in the early 1900s.

Sunday Morning” starts out pretty nice (as shown at the top of this post) with coffee and oranges, a woman in a negligee and a cockatoo hopping on the rug.  But Stevens isn’t really known for lightness.

I first read the poem in a college class and we dissected it. It is a serious poetic meditation, a philosophical poem about what might happen to us when we die.

The “pungent oranges and bright, green wings” very quickly transform into:
…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.

When “Sunday Morning” was published in 1915 in Poetry magazine, the Modernist movement was the thing. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” also was published that year.

So, on this Sunday morning, why am I connecting this poem and a night sky?

When I was staring up at the sky the other night, I was pulled into thoughts about old age and death. I don’t know that gazing into the universe at night causes those kinds of feeling for everyone, but eternity and the impossibility of it really do fit together.

I find that sometimes I have to fight moving from a happy moment of coffee and oranges to a sad one . They also fit together sometimes too. Something is so good that you start thinking about it being gone.

That night sky does make me think about eternity. It is the only thing I can see that comes close to being eternity.

Eliot’s Prufrock wonders

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

Do I dare even stare into that universe that reverses our decisions and revisions so easily?

What about an afterlife?

Stevens writes:

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?

I don’t find any comfort in the concept of an afterlife. I suppose that means I lack faith.  I never did believe, or perhaps I was afraid to believe. Even as a child, I found an afterlife frightening. It scared me that people who died were somewhere watching us.

Maybe I’m just feeling age building up in inside me.  I grow old. I already wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

More likely, I am feeling more in love with life and with those people I love. I don’t want them shooting off into space or eternity. I want them here.

It is a sunny, autumn Sunday morning after the terror attacks in Paris. I don’t have any oranges in the house, but I was just having coffee with my wife in her peignoir and I need to hold onto this morning well into evening and the night.

And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
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