They called me to the Window, for
" 'Twas Sunset" — Some one said —
I only saw a Sapphire Farm —
And just a Single Herd —
Of Opal Cattle — feeding far
Upon so vain a Hill —
As even while I looked — dissolved —
Nor Cattle were — nor Soil —
But in their Room — a Sea — displayed —
And Ships — of such a size
As Crew of Mountains — could afford —
And Decks — to seat the skies —
This — too — the Showman rubbed away —
And when I looked again —
Nor Farm — nor Opal Herd — was there —
Nor Mediterranean —
F589 (1863) J628
Dickinson seems to take particular pleasure in sunrise and sunset. I've put a list of sunset poems below – several of which are among my favorites. Like others on the list, this one lyrically sketches the ephemeral but epic loveliness of the setting sun.
In the previous poem we had an Inquisitor. This poem features a "Showman" displaying his art. The material, the sky; the medium, setting sun and clouds. The real showman, though, is the poet who sees an ever-changing panoply of scenes and presents them to the reader for delight.
The first stanza is ironic at the expense of her family – or whoever might have been present. It was certainly no secret that Dickinson enjoyed the rising and setting sun, and this particular sunset must have been particularly lovely. So these well-meaning folk call her
over, "for / 'Twas Sunset". It is the following "I only saw" that is ironic, as if she rushed over to see this grand thing and instead only saw ... well, she embarks on what she saw in an imaginative tour de force. The some one's "Sunset" becomes a series of dazzling images: a sapphire farm with a herd of opal cattle feeding on an ephemeral hill of cloud; then the clouds become giant ships upon the deep blue Mediterranean, so big their decks could "seat the skies". We are to be imagining the sky becoming dotted with stars. The clouds floating below them would offer the decks upon which they ride.
But at last the Showman rubs away the evening's entertainment with the setting of the sun. It's a lovely performance by both Showman and Poet.
Other sunset poems (you can find these by using the search bar beneath the banner)"
"The Guest is gold and crimson" (F44)
"If this is 'fading'" (F119)
"The Sun kept stooping – stooping – low!" (F182)
"Where Ships of Purple – gently toss" (F296)
"This – is the land – the Sunset washes" (F297)
"She sweeps with many-colored Brooms" (F318)
"Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple" (F321)
"How the old mountains drip with sunset" (F327),
"Whole Gulfs – of Red, and Fleets – of Red" (F468),
"The Day undressed – Herself" (F495)
"I send two Sunsets" (F557)