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28 June 2011

There is a morn by men unseen—

There is a morn by men unseen—
Whose maids upon remoter green
Keep their Seraphic May—
And all day long, with dance and game,
And gambol I may never name—
Employ their holiday.

Here to light measure, move the feet
Which walk no more the village street—
Nor by the wood are found—
Here are the birds that sought the sun
When last year's distaff idle hung
And summer's brows were bound.

Ne'er saw I such a wondrous scene—
Ne'er such a ring on such a green—
Nor so serene array—
As if the stars some summer night
Should swing their cups of Chrysolite—
And revel till the day—

Like thee to dance—like thee to sing—
People upon the mystic green—
I ask, each new May Morn.
I wait thy far, fantastic bells—

Announcing me in other dells –
Unto the different dawn! 

                                                                     J24,  Fr13 (1858)

This seems like a light fantasy of Paradise--maids dancing and playing in eternal May. The grassy grounds are perfect and the games are accompanied by birds who fled where summer goes. Dickinson seems sure of herself--"There is a morn by men unseen" she declares and then describes the idyllic scene confidently. This is where maids keep their innocence (except for the 'gambol I may never name' -- which sounds bewitchingly naughty), the tired villagers once more walk with light step, and the birds once again find warm sun.
     But in the last stanza there is suddenly another presence--one who dances and sings--and revels like the Chrysolite-swilling stars (chrysolite is a golden-yellow peridot gem). The poet waits for that someone's 'far - fantastic bells' to ring on her own demise, announcing her into 'other dells' and different dawns.
     Perhaps this someone is the childhood girlfriend lost to Dickinson when she was but a young maid herself. It is pleasant to think that ones friends are gamboling on a gorgeous lawn. But the ending is surprisingly sad: May Day is supposed to be happy and yet the poet waits for death -- or at least for transformation into some frolicking version of paradise. 
     The rhyme and measure are straightforward and conventional: 6-line stanzas with pairs of tetrameter interrupted by a third and sixth line of trimeter. It's a small variation on hymn or ballad verse, adding two extra lines to the standard four. The rhyme scheme is AABCCB. 
    I do like a few of the images: summer's bound brows, the stars swinging their cups of Chrysolite, and the fun meter of the dancing feet that begins the second stanza: "Here to light measure, move the feet"-- which I scan as a dactyl followed by a trochee and an amphimacer (long - short - long). It is indeed 'light measure'.  


  1. Thank you Susan. I appreciate and enjoy your commentary.

    1. Thanks! I re-read the commentary and that made me realize I'd omitted a line in the poem ("Announcing me in other dells –"). So special thanks!

  2. I wonder if this is not Emily's guarded way of referring to apure innocent love between females that she may have aspired to. 'Seraphic' as a hidden code for 'Sapphic'? Any suggestion of lesbianism would have to be guarded in those times, the 'gambol I may never name' as close as she could get to any hint at eroticism between women. The second stanza is her regret that she has never been able to achieve this idyllic state of love in her life, and the third a longing that it may yet happen. ?????

    1. Sorry I didn't see this earlier. Interesting for sure. As Unknown says, a multilayered reading.

    2. I think it happened with Sue! That's "the different dawn."

  3. An interesting addition, Michael Lee. Emily is multilayered for sure.

  4. Susan, why do you think the 'thee' in the final stanza refers to a new presence, and not to the People upon the mystic green--the maids of the first stanza?

    1. Thank you for this question. I cannot account for my interpretation! What might possibly explain why I somehow came up with some 'thee' other than the first-stanza People is that as poem 13 I was diving into Dickinson lit, some of which fastens on Dickinson's response to the death of young friends. I was also, I think, often looking for hidden references to ... something! But that's just conjecture ten years' later.

      I would not introduce the idea of another 'presence' if writing the commentary today.

    2. Thank you. Forgive me if I pester you with my ignorance. What do mean by 'as poem 13 I was diving into Dickinson lit, some of which fastens on Dickinson's response to the death of young friends.'

    3. Never mind. I see now that 13 refers to the poem. I was using the Johnson edition.

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  6. During recent decades some readers of Line 1, Stanza 1 have posited that ED intended “men” to mean “males”, but a close reading of her poems and letters suggests she intended the gender-free definition, “mankind”. (Brigeta 2018; , Downloaded 7 August 2022). Readers of comments on Poems F1-F120 in ‘The Prowling Bee’ know my assumption that ED and Susan D shared a lesbian relationship, but I don’t think ED implies there is a females-only heaven in ‘There is a morn by men unseen’.

    In Lines 1-3 of the last stanza, the poet asks the “people upon the mystic green” if she can join their dance and song, but she understands she must wait for that “different dawn” when their “far, fantastic bells” announce her to their “other dells”.

  7. ED’s fifth line, “And gambol I may never name”, suggests a progeniture for the famous last line of ‘Two Loves’ by Lord Alfred Douglas, “The love that dare not speak its name”. However, the similarity of the two lines is a coincidence. Douglas wrote ‘Two Loves’ in 1892, and ED’s ‘There is a morn by men unseen’ first appeared in print in 1945 (Bolts of Melody, Millicent Todd Bingham). Douglas was Oscar Wilde’s lover before and after Wilde’s 1895-1897 imprisonment in Reading Gaol (jail) for “gross indecency with men”.

  8. Susan K remarks that “Dickinson seems sure of herself—‘There is a morn by men unseen she declares’ and then describes the idyllic scene confidently.” In Stanza 3 ED tells us she was literally there: “Ne'er saw I such a wondrous scene— / Ne'er such a ring on such a green— / Nor so serene array—”. Of course, she wasn’t really there, but her description sounds so certain, suggesting an overpowering vision, a dream, a hallucination, something too real to be ordinary poetic license, something huge appearing for the first time in her poetry.