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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!

                                                                                        J15,  Fr44 (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.

12 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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    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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  2. Wow! I missed the whole idea completely on my first reading. Susan, do you do a lot of research or are you able to piece it together on your own? I hope my skills become a bit sharper in time.

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    1. 'In time', indeed. After about 4-5 years and 500-600 poems I feel more confident piecing the poems together. Earlier I struggled and relied on scholars and particularly on David Preest's concise paragraph or two on each of ALL the poems. I found myself disagreeing with his reading quite often, but it always gave me a place to start and that was important. You can download his impressive accomplishment here: http://www.emilydickinsonpoems.org/
      He has made this pdf file available for free to all who want it.

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  3. Thanks! I will check out his work too. I have been writing the poems, trying to figure them out on my own, and then looking at your blog. I think it is interesting to observe our own thinking and how it might also be broadened. E.D. often loses me when I can not find the subject as in this poem. I thought the guest was a bird on first glance. I am glad you gave me new insight on this.

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  4. David Preest's site is down!... Do you know where the pdf might be available?......

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    1. Oh no... I think I remember reading that he died not so very long ago. Use the contact form to send me an email and I'll send you the file.

      Such a great resource! I couldn't have started my own project without it. Took me a hundred poems or so to find my Dickinson sea legs ...

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  5. Oh, you aren't posting anymore?.... Oh no!..

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    1. I will be! going through 'issues' the past months.
      Within a few more I'll be through them one way or another and will jump back in. I really miss the intellectual challenge and the Dickinson Delight!

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  6. Oh dear, it seems Mr Preest died. I found an obituary online.

    DAVID PREEST
    BORN 1938,
    DIED 22 MAY 2019,
    AGED 81

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  7. It's here, and 'find on page' his name.

    https://issuu.com/infinitedesign/docs/rgs_ona_issue_107_web/s/10552506

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