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21 December 2014

The Day came slow — till Five o'clock —

The Day came slow — till Five o'clock —
Then sprang before the Hills
Like Hindered Rubies — or the Light
A Sudden Musket — spills —

The Purple could not keep the East —
The Sunrise shook abroad
Like Breadths of Topaz — packed a night —
The Lady just unrolled —

The Happy Winds — their Timbrels took —
The Birds — in docile Rows
Arranged themselves around their Prince
The Wind — is Prince of Those —

The Orchard sparkled like a Jew —
How mighty 'twas — to be
A Guest in this stupendous place —
The Parlor — of the Day —
                                   F572 (1863)  J304

Sunrise approaches slowly until suddenly, at 5 a.m., it springs like rubies suddenly uncovered – a metaphor mixing the animal with the mineral – or, in a masculine, martial simile, like the light from musket fire. Dickinson pivots to the distaff side when describing how the purple of night is covered over as the rising sun shakes out its Topaz cloth as if the lady of the house were unpacking the linen for the day's use.
Photo: John O Neill
        The "Happy Winds" begin to shake the trees, the rustling of their leaves and branches percussive and musical, like tambourines. The birds line up on fence and branch amid the stirrings of their "Prince", for it is his breath that helps them soar. 

  The last stanza is problematic with its dewy orchard sparkling in the morning light "like a Jew". Did Dickinson believe that Jews are decked out with diamonds – and this a result of both acquisitiveness and ostentation? Did she never question this assumption?  Domhnall Mitchell makes the following comments about that in an article, "Temperance in Emily Dickinson's Writing, published in The Emily Dickinson Journal in November, 2006:

Bolt of silk cloth
Dickinson appears to play on the anti-Semitic stereotype of the miserly in one poem ["I Came to buy a smile – today" (Fr258)], and on the acquisitive in [this one]. Both works were enclosed privately in letters to friends, but they were also recorded in the fascicles. In other words, these are not throwaway or confidential remarks: they were preserved, which suggests a lack of self-consciousness about the images being deployed—a sense that they were acceptable to people other than herself. Had the references been made in letters only, one would have thought that Dickinson knew that they were suspect, but knew too that they would have no wider, public, impact. That she recorded them suggests an assumption of cultural approbation—and indeed others in her social circle felt confident enough to publish similar expressions, 

It is a casual anti-Semitism. The morning is glorious, she regards this "Parlor – of the Day" as a "stupendous place". Had there been an intended bite, the  jumble of simile and metaphor wouldn't have been so ecstatic. Nonetheless, I take Mitchell's point about the anti-Semitic stereotype – which cannot be casually dismissed.


  1. Being Jewish, whatever that means, and an unbridled lover of Ed, this image took me aback. I quickly made two associations, one Jew as short for Jewel and two, the Old Testament in which the garden has become this orchard packed with ripe apples waiting to be picked.

    1. I hadn't thought of the "jewel" association. I think you're right. She probably intended the doubling, with the emphasis on the glittering jewels.

  2. For me the Jew line reads as complimentary. Perhaps it is true that given the stereotype you can't dissociate it from the idea of "acquisitiveness", but why should it be so? Isn't that stereotype itself problematic? Anyway, no negative judgement seems to be attached to it here, only "stupendous might".

    The musket fire line will stick with me. Thinking of the sunset as the sudden red of gunfire spilling from a gun is something.

  3. Aside from the culturally engrained, unquestioned antisemitism, it’s nice to read a happy poem. Why ED was lolling in the orchard before 5:00 AM is her business, but summer mornings in Massachusetts can be irresistible.

    The sense of Stanza 2 stuns me; pure word magic:

    The night could not keep the East —
    The Sunrise shook it off and
    Packed it in a bag,
    The Sun simply unrolled —

    Stanza 4 thanks the artistic creator of the morning for the privilege of watching the birth of the painting from the best seat in the auditorium, the Dickinson Orchard.