Poem ‘A Day’ by Emily Elizabeth Dickinson a short poem with no rhyming scheme. It is about how the poet gets to know about the sun rise and how mystic the sun set appears to her. Watch the video to get the explanation of the poem with poetic devices.
Summary of the Poem A Day
The poem can be divided into two halves: an eight-line section describing the sunrise, and an eight-line section, describing the speaker’s lack of knowledge of the sunset. In this poem Emily describes the sunset and sunrise, as a village, and the things in that village. But the poem also describes the difficulties of recognising the world around us. The sunrise is described in terms of a small village, with church steeples, town news, and ladies’ bonnets. The sunset, on the other hand, is characterised as the gathering home of a flock. In this poem she probes nature’s mysteries through the lens of the rising and setting Sun. Emily begins by emphasising that she is going to tell her audience ‘How the Sun rose.’ She symbolically compares the Sun’s rays to ribbons that are let loose one at a time. The colourful rays slowly untangle over the ocean where the church steeples seem to ‘swim in Amethyst.’ As the bright fire of the Sun appears, the darkened blackness first turns blue, before taking on its brightness in the full glow of the Sun. Then suddenly the Sun’s appearance spreads quickly. Emily then tells us how the entire nature is waking up and colour can be seen as far away as the hills, while the birds have started to sing. Emily then emphasises in her surprised musing, ‘That must have been the Sun!’ It seems as if she was seeing it for the first time and wondering at the effect the mere rising of the Sun has had on all that she sees. Though when she says that ‘But how he set, I know not’ leads the readers to some drama and ambiguity about her thoughts. It seemed to her that as the sunset, she saw ‘a purple stile’ where ‘little Yellow boy and girls were climbing.’ She sees children climbing over a barrier, possibly going home after a day of tending sheep or perhaps simply on their way home from school. After climbing the stile, the children finally reach the other side, which signs the lowest point of the Sun before it disappears to rise again in the other world. And what causes the Sun to finally disappear is that a cleric or perhaps even a householder shepherd closes a gate and leads away the flock of children or perhaps sheep. At this point, the speaker would be in darkness and have no idea what happens next.
steeple – a tall painted tower of a church often with a spire on it
amethyst – a valuable purple coloured stone
style – a set of steps like a ladder that helps people climb over a fence or gate in fields.
dominie – a pastor or a clergy
bobolink – an American Bird
A. Answer these questions with reference to the context.
- I’ll tell you how the Sun rose,— A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst, The news, like squirrels, ran.
a. What does the phrase ‘a ribbon at a time’ mean?
b. What does the word ‘swam’ suggest?
c. What news is referred to in the last line?
d. What does ‘like squirrels ran’ tell you about the speed at which the news spread?
- The hills untied their bonnets, The bobolinks begun.
a. What time of the day is referred to in the first line?
b. What kind of ‘bonnets’ could the hills have?
c. What is a ‘bobolink’?
d. What did the bobolinks do?
- Then I said softly to myself, ‘That must have been the Sun!’
a. Whom does ‘I’ refer to?
b. What time does ‘then’ refer to?
c. What is the speaker talking about when she says ‘that must have been the Sun’?
d. Why does the speaker speak ‘softly’?
- a. It means that the Sun rose slowly and its rays appeared in what seemed to look like bands or ribbons.
b. The word suggests that the steeples were covered or dunked in sunlight.
c. The news was that the Sun had risen.
d. It suggests that the news spread very fast.
- a. It is early morning.
b. The bonnets could be the clouds over the hills or snow on the hills.
c. It is a species of American blackbird.
d. They began to sing.
- a. It refers to the narrator.
b. It refers to the morning.
c. The hills untying their bonnets and the bobolinks singing made the narrator think it must be because of the Sun.
d. The speaker said softly to herself because maybe she was alone and there was no one listening or she was trying to reason out and assuring herself about the rising Sun.
B. Answer these questions.
- What does the speaker want to tell us about?
- What happens when the Sun rises?
- What happens when the Sun sets?
- What is it that the speaker doesn’t know?
- What do the girls and boys do till they reach ‘the other side’?
- Who guides the children?
- Do you think the poem is only about sunrise and sunset?
- Comment on the theme of the poem.
- What do you think is symbolised in the second stanza by the speaker?
- Explain the lines:
- There seemed a purple stile
- Which little yellow boys and girls
- Were climbing all the while
- The speaker wants to tell us what happened when the Sun rose and what happened when it set.
- When the sunrises the hills seem to remove their bonnets and the bobolinks sing. The rays fall in beams and light up the place. Everyone talks about the sunrise.
- When the sunsets the children who were out at play go over the hill and seem to disappear as they go home.
- The speaker does not how the sunsets.
- They keep climbing the stile till they reach the other side.
- A dominie in grey guides the children.
- The poem is not only about sun rise and sun set. It is also about life and death; movement from freedom to imprisonment or vice versa.
- The themes in this poem are like the binaries of sunrise and the sunset. Both depict life and death. Just as the birds, steeples and almost everything rises and shines, the sunset causes closure, the children follow the Dominie and it looks as if they are finally home after a long day. The day represents circle of life.
- In the second stanza, everything comes to life due to the sun rising is symbolised.
- It seemed that little children were climbing a stile to go across home to the other side at the end of the day. The stile seemed purple because the Sunlight was disappearing and it was turning dark.
1. A. Pick and explain two examples of personification in the poem.
2. B. Identify a metaphor in the poem and explain how it has been used in the poem.
A. 1. The hills untied their bonnets (the hills are spoken about as though they were girls)
2. But how he set I don’t know (the Sun is referred to here as though it were a person)
B. A ribbon at a time—the Sun’s rays are compared to a ribbon.