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19 December 2011

Will there really be a "Morning"?

Will there really be a "Morning"?
Is there such a thing as "Day"?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called "Morning" lies!
                                                                        -  F148 (1860)  101

Dickinson writes a riff on the travel literature of her day, but does so in a childlike manner asking about “Morning” as if it were a giant moa that someone said existed. It’s tempting to read the poem as either a light-hearted celebration of morning, a sort of existential questioning about the state of mind and entire gestalt of that time of day that follows so gaily upon the dark heels of night; or else as a metaphor for the hope of Resurrection – the morning when Heaven arrives.
            But we read the second line, asking about “Day” and it sounds a tad sarcastic. Of course there will be a morning, no matter how long the night. There’s Day, isn’t there? Whaddya think, eh? And then there is the droll comment about morning perhaps being brought from “famous countries / Of which I have never heard.” That sounds as if Dickinson is remembering travel lectures where some great traveller spoke about “The famous Someplace-or Other” that the audience was too embarrassed to admit they had never heard of.
            So she is “reduced” to asking a “Scholar” or “Sailor” or even “Wise Men from the skies” about morning. Can they in all their wisdom answer such a simple question?  The poet implies that, no, even the wisest men, even the most daring adventurers cannot locate morning on one of their carefully constructed maps.
            It isn’t such a simple question, after all, as to answer it one would have to understand the earth’s rotation on its axis relative to the sun. In fact, morning doesn’t really come from the next county to the east, but is always there in some sense waiting for us to turn into it.
            The poem is written in trochaic meter which imparts both a story-telling feel (think “Hiawatha”) and a nursery rhyme (“Jack be nimble” or “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”). 

2 comments:

  1. Do you think I reach too far in suggesting that morning might be heaven? The second stanza is more difficult unless she is referring to the soul. Still confused by it, truthfully!

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    1. I'm thinking it is an existential question. How do we know what we know? It is also playful: the question is posed as if every day Morning ventures forth from her abode. And I also think it is, as you suggest, metaphorical. Morning might serve as Resurrection, Day as Heaven. But then the second and third stanzas confuse this reading and call a geographical and even actual existence of Heaven into question.

      Must admit it isn't so clear to me, either, so take all of the above with appropriate grains of salt.

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