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17 August 2012

She sweeps with many-colored Brooms—

She sweeps with many-colored Brooms—
And leaves the Shreds behind—
Oh Housewife in the Evening West—
Come back, and dust the Pond!

You dropped a Purple Ravelling in—
You dropped an Amber thread—
And how you've littered all the East
With duds of Emerald!

And still, she plies her spotted thrift,
And still the Aprons fly,
Till Dusk obstructs the Diligence—
Or Contemplation fails.
                                                            F318 (1862)  219

Thrift, for coloring the sky pink
This is among my favorites of Dickinson’s many sunset poems. In previous ones she has uses imagery of the sea and the ships that sail on it, colored gemstones such as chrysolite, a “shroud of red,” the “evening blood,”  a “purple stile” that children cross at the end of the day, or a pirate crouching over his plundered gold. But in this poem it’s a housewife who creates the colors as she sweeps the sky with her “many-colored Brooms.”
            Dickinson playfully chastises the housewife for leaving behind some of the broom whisks in the pond, creating purple and amber streaks, and for littering the opposite sky “with duds of Emerald.” These would be the little earrings of pale green stars that begin to appear on the eastern horizon as night falls.
            Even so, the housewife continues her chores, flapping the cloud aprons and sweeping away—this time with the pink thrift. It finally grows so dark that her efforts can no longer be seen, or, the poet adds, “Contemplation fails.” With this last phrase I picture Dickinson watching the sunset conjuring up image after image as the evening sky changes. She keeps this up until it is dark or until her imagination runs out. I’m betting that dark falls first.
            This is another poem in hymn or common ballad form (you can sing it to the tune of “Amazing Grace” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas).


  1. The repeat of the long "e" in "She " and "sweeps" and "leaves" immediately creates a sweeping rhythm in the reading of this poem.
    Then, the vexed mention of the homely "Shreds left behind" will call to mind a familiar experience for anyone who has swept a floor with an old-fashioned broom.
    But, oh, She is sweeping the evening sky with many colored brooms...
    Magical. And unforgettable. This is a poem one finds oneself irresistibly repeating and memorizing, and recalling when one sees a sunset sky.

    1. Yes, yes! The "And still"s with the "Till" add to the quickening pace as the sun sets. This one, along with others like the one where Death tucks her children in drawers, is such a lovely contrast to the more 'manly' poems with machines and armies.

  2. Love Dickinson's poetry, and this is a truly wonderful example.