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21 August 2012

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple

Leaping like Leopards to the Sky
Then at the feet of the old Horizon
Laying her spotted Face to die
Stooping as low as the Otter's Window
Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn
Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow
And the Juggler of Day is gone.
                                                            F321 (1862)  228

The sun really does have a spotted face
The sun blazes gold on the eastern horizon as it rises; its blaze is quenched in the purple hues of the of late evening. The sun does seem to sail up pretty quickly, but I’m not sure I agree that it leaps “like Leopards”—and that’s one leopard too many, if one is to be picky. But perhaps Dickinson is thinking of Helios driving his horses with the sun chariot across the sky. But Dickinson likes to use leopards in her poems—at least she has in two previous ones (here and here).
            The next lines take us to day’s end. Like a human woman, day’s face becomes “spotted” as it progresses through time. But before she dies, she stoops as low as the river bank where the otter makes its home, shedding her last light on the roof, painting the barn with sunset colors, and leaving a final kiss of light with the crown of the sun as she sinks beneath the western horizon.
            In the last line, where daylight or the sun is named “the Juggler of Day,” we see the sun not as Helios or an old woman or as leopards but rather as a circus performer dressed as modern-day clowns in blazing golds and purples and with a heavily-marked or spotted face. This, then, is the image of day—an actor staging dazzling feats for the enjoyment of the audience who might stop from time to time throughout the day to admire the performance.
            Dickinson makes use of the present progressive tense to carry the poem in a rush—as if the day flew by in one seating: blazing, quenching, leaping, laying, stooping, touching, and kissing. Quite a show! The words begin each of their lines with a trochaic emphasis that  provides a forward energy. It’s almost acrobatic.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I liked the interpretation. I was dazzled whether she was speaking about the sun or something else, because she speaks about sun with 'she' which was so confusing for me. Thanks for the illustration though!

    1. It's true that the sun is often anthropomorphized as a "he" but Dickinson here treats the sun as a woman. It's a hodge-podge of imagery, but then the sun really does take on a variety of looks and moods as it progresses through the sky.

      Thanks for reading and commenting

  3. This poem could be about the sun, or about daylilies, or both.

  4. Dear Susan, first of all thank you for your comments to Emily's poems. I'm a singer / songwriter and greatly inspired by her poems. I like reading your interpretations. This very colorful one inspired me to write a song which I feel is a bit related to the music of Toto. To me it's about the flight of butterfly, describing a scenery which comes quite close to "Two Butterflies went out at Noon". Of course it has this multilayered greatness which characterizes the work of Emily. I hope you can answer a question I have. I'm working on a CD whit songs based on Emily's poems. Am I free to publish her poems in the booklet which goes with the CD? Or are there still some rights attached to her work? Thank you, kind regards, Jeroen

    1. I can visualize butterflies in this poem. Thanks for the thought.

      I'm not knowledgeable about copyrights, but perhaps older publications/versions of Dickinson's work have outlived any copyright protection.