Humans have been searching for a meaning in life since the beginning of time. The belief in a divine existence grants this meaning and seemingly fills in the void that some people feel in their lives. For others, however, happiness requires more than inspiring, but unproven, ideas. Wallace Stevens explores this conflict in two of his poems, “Sunday Morning” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts”. In these two poems, Stevens argues that happiness is not found within the presence (or apparent absence) of a divine being, but through the personalization and appreciation of nature.
Stevens’ skepticism of the existence of a divine God is demonstrated throughout both poems. In “Rabbit”, he declares that the happiest rabbit is one that is enjoying the night without expecting an explanation. The rabbit is not looking for any secret answers amid the darkness, nor is it concerned about anything other than the night itself. The rabbit is simply enjoying the night. Stevens more thoroughly rejects this concept of a hidden divinity in “Sunday Morning”. He believes that the effect that these divine elements have on the individual is vastly more important than the unseen, spiritual value that is associated with them. The poet openly questions the significance of a divinity that “can come/ Only in silent shadows and dreams” (67). He follows soon after with, “divinity must live within herself” (67). In both statements, Stevens challenges the concept of an external divinity and suggests that true divinity lies in one’s direct emotional responses to physical stimuli: specifically, nature. In short, he supposes that “the earth/ [shall] seem all of paradise that we shall know” (68).
Stevens presents nature as a calming, revitalizing force that should be appreciated. While he cherishes every element of nature, he specifically mentions the sun, the trees, the grass, fruit, rain, falling snow, the sky, forest blooms, the month of August (which he mentions in both poems) and the “sweet questionings” (68) of birds. To appreciate these fully, one must make them his/her own. By personalizing nature, one can become a part of the beauty that Stevens interprets as the divine and therefore can become enlightened and relaxed. The rabbit allows itself to do this very thing. The speaker of the poem is convincing the rabbit that the entire world is made for him. Through the speaker’s address to the rabbit, Stevens sends a message to the readers, encouraging them to enjoy nature and to imagine for themselves the peace obtained with this practice. The rabbit, literally, does not have a care in the world when in this state. He is enjoying the night, which he becomes a part of. He is not searching for a meaning to life which, as Stevens argues, might not be there. Instead, the rabbit becomes “a self that fills the four corners of the night” (209). He feels that the world was made for him to enjoy without the guilt that is, with humans, usually associated with the religion that Stevens is indirectly attacking. Connecting with nature personally instead of associating it with a divine presence allows a more direct and friendly relationship to develop between the human and nature. Divinity lies within this relationship, according to Stevens, and not in the existence of God.
“Sunday Morning” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” challenge both the definition of divinity and the existence of God. According to Stevens, through the physical and spiritual enjoyment of all elements of nature, humans can find the comfort and peace that is otherwise sought after in the form of a divine being.