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30 May 2015

The Red — Blaze — is the Morning —

The Red — Blaze — is the Morning —
The Violet — is Noon —
The Yellow — Day — is falling —
And after that — is None —

But Miles of Sparks — at Evening —
Reveal the Width that burned —
The Territory Argent — that never yet — consumed —
                                                        F603 (1863)  J469


The hot course of the sun is charted against the night sky in this short poem. Dickinson sketches the sun as if it were a bonfire: its first red blaze ignites the day, its hotter blue flame burns at noon, and its fainter yellow light subsides with dusk.
        Night in contrast, is illuminated by the silvery light of astral bodies. Their "Miles of Sparks" light the vast realm of sky burned by the great sun as if they were the remaining embers flung from the fire. Dickinson refers to night as the "Territory Argent" – a term in heraldry for silvery or white. It's a lovely phrase that today we can really only appreciate after a night in the open far from cities.
        The last line is a bit ambiguous. The argent territory might never have been consumed by the mighty sun or else its cooler light never burns or consumes. Perhaps Dickinson intends the poetic truth of both meanings. The eternal mysteries of night cannot be extinguished or consumed. The sun, like earthly life, runs its course, fading at last into that darker Territory.
The Territory Argent: photo by Corvis, The Guardian
        The light of the astral plane is also more contemplative, less dangerous to gaze upon. Lovers and poets flourish under its nocturnal beauty. It nurtures rather than consumes. In "The first Day's Night had come" [F423], Dickinson presents the night as hope. After some terrible calamity the poet is grateful for the coming of night. It signals that the travails of day "had been endured". During the night her Soul gives her "work" to "mend" her "until another Morn".

Dickinson alternates masculine endings with feminine endings throughout the poem, i.e., accented syllables vs. unaccented syllables: Morning, falling, evening, Argent (I count the last line of the poem as two lines put together in order to avoid what would otherwise be rather singsong-y if the line were broken at "Argent"). The contrast between those languishing feminine rhymes and the masculine (Noon, None, burned, consumed) echoes the poem's contrast of night with day.

3 comments:

  1. Call me silly, but the rhythm of this poem reminds me of "This Little Piggy Went to Market." But I digress.

    The Territory Argent is Earth's coat of arms. It remains regardless of what is going on with the Sun on Earth.

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    Replies
    1. Now I have the piggies in my head. Thanks!
      I'm not sure what you mean about the Territory Argent. Do you mean it is the earth somehow protected? Or the starry firmament?

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  2. I don't know the state of astrophysics in Victorian America but ED certainly alllows for light from stars that hasn't yet reached us in her crazy-smart last line.

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