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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.

  3. What would be 3 figurative language examples for this poem

    1. Look up 'figurative language' and once you've got that down you should be able to find examples either directly from the poem or else from my discussion. Good luck! It is fun to do.

  4. The use of the verb 'sweeping' is particularly evocative as it suggests the scudding movement of clouds across the sky at sunset. The repetition of the word 'dropped' appropriately suggests the sinking of the daylight, too.

    The focus on 'brooms' is interesting as it can be seen to allude to witchcraft, as well as to the aforementioned realm of domesticity. It is as if this seemingly negligent 'Housewife' of the skies has powers beyond her mere household obligations. The imbuing of a mundane image with a mystical resonance can be regarded as an apt way of suggesting both the predicatable pattern and the mystical quality of the day's end which may follow a regular diurnal cycle, similar to the housewife's daily routine, but also invokes in us a sense of awe and mystery. The transformation of the sky at sunset is thereby akin to a magical spell, continuously re-enacted.

    The poem is animated by Dickinson's humour which lends the poem a playful air, while the more contemplative final line suggests the speaker's observation of the 'Housewife' of the skies has been a spectacle to behold.

  5. What are the shreds and threads that are being left behind?

  6. In several poems ED mentions waiting for inspiration, not just at specific moments, as when dusk obstructs, but in general. She listens carefully for spheres singing or musicians playing or snow falling; she has keen ears, but contemplation sometimes fails, and she worries about that in an unexpected final line.