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02 August 2011

The Guest is gold and crimson—

The Guest is gold and crimson—
An Opal guest and gray—
Of Ermine is his doublet—
His Capuchin gay—

He reaches town at nightfall—
He stops at every door—
Who looks for him at morning
I pray him too—explore
The Lark's pure territory—
Or the Lapwing's shore!
                                                          - F 44 (1858)


Sunset is personified as a Guest who comes to town at the end of day, stopping at every door. In earlier poems we've seen Dickinson describe sunset as a pirate crouching over the golden hills (F38) and as the end of life (F18). Here he sweeps into town dressed in colorful Renaissance clothes. The sun is masculine in the tradition of Shakespeare, Plato, and the whole Western tradition that views the moon as mysterious and changeable whereas the sun is light and heat and constant. 
     The poet describes Sunset's raiment by beginning with the sun himself: "The Guest is gold..." and then moving outwards to the crimson that radiates out from the sun. The surrounding sky is gray and opalescent--just beginning to be touched by color. Clouds of ermine white form a doublet (a close-fitting men's jacket that I wish were still in style) enclose this and beyond them, the distant clouds pick up all the sunset colors to make a gay Capuchin (hooded cloak). 
     If you want to know where this guest has gotten off to in the morning, look to the eastern sky. Dickinson uses the Lark as a metonymy for morning and morning always dawns in the east. The Lapwing's shore would be, from Amherst, on the eastern coast. But why would you look for sunset in sunrise territory? Is she saying they are the same thing?
    Thinking about the metaphor further, remembering her earlier use of Sunset as the end of life (not an unusual metaphor and one she would certainly have been aware of from Shakespeare), the poem opens up as a description of death and rebirth. The Guest is the divine escort: he stops at every house at the end of day--no one who is on death's door is missed. He emerges on the other side of night--death--in the morning, the time of re-birth. 
     In a later poem, "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Dickinson re-visits the idea of Death as a gentleman caller. That he is a bit of a dandy just makes the trip a bit easier to take.

3 comments:

  1. I've read Emily for years---my hardbound Johnson has many loose pages...

    I recently bought two paperbacks, a Johnson and a Franklin...

    I'm going through them---marking each poem with the other edition's number and checking terms in the Emily Dickinson Lexicon -- http://edl.byu.edu/index.php --- also absorbing her poetry on new levels...

    This poem was a mystery on a certain level and your post helped open me up to other perspectives...

    Thank you :-)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Re-reading this poem I, too, find it a mystery. I just put out what seems likely and consistent -- although Dickinson is often not "likely" and very often not consistent at all.

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    2. Absolutely, "often not 'likely'" :-)

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