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16 July 2014

The One that could repeat the Summer Day —

The One that could repeat the Summer Day —
Were greater than Itself — though He –
Minutest of Mankind – should be —

And He — could reproduce the Sun —
At Period of Going down —
The Lingering — and the Stain — I mean —

When Orient have been outgrown —
And Occident — become Unknown —
His Name — remain —
F549 (1863)  J307

This poem is fairly self explanatory and I could no better at explication than David Preest in his summery:
 … Emily returns to the theme of poem 291 [F327, "How the old Mountains drip with Sunset"]. There she claimed that even the greatest artists could not properly reproduce the sunset. Here she says that if (the meaning of ‘And’ in line 4) an artist could reproduce the actual moment of sunset, his name would remain until the end of time, even if he were the ‘minutest of mankind,’ since he would be greater than nature itself.
Of course Emily herself attempted to reproduce the sunset in many poems.

But Dickinson does some nice poetic things that I think deserve appreciation. First, she varies from her more usual ballad or hymn form, adopting longer lines, using three-line stanzas, and having a (slant) rhyme scheme of AAA / BBB / BBB. The rhymes are nearly all long vowels which places a subtle emphasis on the last word of each line. There are long vowels heavily salted throughout the poem, slowing it down as if it were a long summer day or the sunset "Lingering" between the "outgrown" east of morning and the darkness in the west into which the sun sinks. 

The most effective use of long vowels comes at the very end in the shortest line of the poem: "His Name – remain – ". Dickinson's use of word sounds underscores the meaning.  The rhyme of "Name" with "remain" is very tight, too, with the similar-sounding "n" and "m" sounds reversed from one word to the other.

There's an assumption of artistic power throughout the poem. The artist who can reproduce a summer day is greater than a summer day. Perhaps Dickinson is winking at Shakespeare who famously began Sonnet 18 by asking, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" He ends by claiming that through his poem the subject of the poem will never age or wither; consequently she is superior to the summer day.
  The artist will experience similar longevity, for the name of one who captures the sunset will live on – just as Shakespeare is as immortal as his creations. The artist and their art give life to each other. 

I find Dickinson's use of "Stain" to describe sunset color quite interesting. Does she mean that a true rendering would include some reverberation of, for lack of a better word, sin? "Stain" in both her her dictionary and our modern ones means "discoloration" and "taint". Or is she simply referring to the streaks and swatches of sunset color? 
  That line about the Occident becoming unknown  is a bit mysterious. The pairing of "Unknown" with "outgrown" is lovely and perhaps it mirrors life. We outgrow our morning and noon and fade into that last "undiscovered country".


  1. ED touches on the same topic in "I send two Sunsets" -- a poem she sent to Susan Dickinson (although she doesn't claim immortalal fame for herself and finds the day's sunset "ampler").

    1. Oh that's a cute one ... and now you've made me read ahead!

  2. A few thoughts:
    1- Stain could be a pun on staying and thus appropriate after lingering...
    Looking up stain in other poems, it seams that for Dickinson stain had a particular red (or reddish) connotation as it is evident from her "over the fence" or the fantastic imagery of "the name of it is - Autumn".

    2- Last lines of all stanzas contain internal rhymes or alliteration (Minutest/Mankind, Lingering/stain, Name/remain).

    3- Can we consider an alternative rhyming scheme: AAA,BBC,BBC? If yes, does it indicate anything?

    1. That's a good observation about "stain" -- thanks. As to the rhymes, after rereading the poem I think it is just very tightly written and might be characterized the way you suggest -- or the way I suggest. I do thing, though, that all of it sets up the last line so that it 'remains' on the lips a long time and echoes in the head a long time.

  3. I wonder if the word "stain" here might be one of what some have called her "imageless images." "The Sunshine threw his Hat away" (Fr846/J794) for example, or "When it comes, the Landscape listerns - / Shadows - hold their breath" (Fr320/J258). We can't construct any of that in our mind's eye, but we feel it, don't we? We get it, though we can't translate it into literal meaning - or I can't anyway. I feel a little pang as I rean this outstandingly wonderful line. It's speech-like and immediate. I think of Bottom awakening fromm his "Dream" in A Midsummer Night's Dream, straining to express the inexpressible, failing, all in as moving a monologue as has ever been uttered on stage.

    1. I feel the pang -- you said it very well. It sets that mood just as the sunshine threwing his hat or shadows holding their breaths set a very specific almost tangible mood. "Stain" coupled with "lingering" and sunset ... very rich and real while, as you say, non-literal.

  4. "When Orient have been outgrown —
    And Occident — become Unknown —"
    I think these lines are a continuation of the sunset described in the previous stanza. East and West become obscured when the sun has completely set and it becomes dark. Then, the last line brings us back to "The One that could..." And the reference to Shakespeare's famous sonnet seems possible.

    Even in such a small poem as this there is a progression of time, from summer day, to lingering sunset, and then back again as it is repeated in poetry. It warms me to think of a never ending series of lovely summer days here in the middle of January!

    1. Oh yes, I see. The East, or Orient, is "outgrown" first and then finally the sun sinks in the West or Occident, becoming "Unknown". The time chronology might be expanded farther and its geographical base expanded, too. The outgrown East was spilling westward. When the West is full and forgotten... well, that is a very long time from now -- and a very long time for fame. Which is the point.

  5. "a continuation of the sunset described in the previous stanza" bingo!

    The poem now works for me...thank you!

  6. The word 'Stain' also suggests that Dickinson is describing the natural phenomenon of the lingering sunset in artistic terms, as if seen through the eyes of a visual artist who may render or 'reproduce' it in a wash of colour.

    The final stanza is semantically ambiguous but may suggest the passage of the sun across the sky from east to west, and that the artist or poet's name will endure far beyond the celestial movements of the day, or even beyond the final sunrise and sunset.
    I am also drawn to the way that Dickinson casts the artist or poet as a quasi-divine creator with the capitalisation of 'He' in lines 3 and 4. The word 'One' also implies his uniqueness. The impression that the poet or artist will gain immortality through his creation(s) is suggested by the final rhyme of 'name' and 'remain' which creates an echo or continuation of sound, implying the artist-creator will live on, and become 'Exterior to Time'.

  7. Why should he be the”Minutest I’d Mankind” do you think? Humility is not something she usually projects onto her divine or creator personnas, even if she means poets.