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19 December 2011

Will there really be a "Morning"?

Will there really be a "Morning"?
Is there such a thing as "Day"?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called "Morning" lies!
                                                                        -  F148 (1860)  101

Dickinson writes a riff on the travel literature of her day, but does so in a childlike manner asking about “Morning” as if it were a giant moa that someone said existed. It’s tempting to read the poem as either a light-hearted celebration of morning, a sort of existential questioning about the state of mind and entire gestalt of that time of day that follows so gaily upon the dark heels of night; or else as a metaphor for the hope of Resurrection – the morning when Heaven arrives.
            But we read the second line, asking about “Day” and it sounds a tad sarcastic. Of course there will be a morning, no matter how long the night. There’s Day, isn’t there? Whaddya think, eh? And then there is the droll comment about morning perhaps being brought from “famous countries / Of which I have never heard.” That sounds as if Dickinson is remembering travel lectures where some great traveller spoke about “The famous Someplace-or Other” that the audience was too embarrassed to admit they had never heard of.
            So she is “reduced” to asking a “Scholar” or “Sailor” or even “Wise Men from the skies” about morning. Can they in all their wisdom answer such a simple question?  The poet implies that, no, even the wisest men, even the most daring adventurers cannot locate morning on one of their carefully constructed maps.
            It isn’t such a simple question, after all, as to answer it one would have to understand the earth’s rotation on its axis relative to the sun. In fact, morning doesn’t really come from the next county to the east, but is always there in some sense waiting for us to turn into it.
            The poem is written in trochaic meter which imparts both a story-telling feel (think “Hiawatha”) and a nursery rhyme (“Jack be nimble” or “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”). 


  1. Do you think I reach too far in suggesting that morning might be heaven? The second stanza is more difficult unless she is referring to the soul. Still confused by it, truthfully!

    1. I'm thinking it is an existential question. How do we know what we know? It is also playful: the question is posed as if every day Morning ventures forth from her abode. And I also think it is, as you suggest, metaphorical. Morning might serve as Resurrection, Day as Heaven. But then the second and third stanzas confuse this reading and call a geographical and even actual existence of Heaven into question.

      Must admit it isn't so clear to me, either, so take all of the above with appropriate grains of salt.

  2. I think it's evident she's using "Morning" and "Day" as allusions for happiness. When one is depressed, or unhappy, when so many others wise and well-traveled people seem to know what happiness is, how do you know what that looks like? She's hoping for someone to show her.

  3. It could also be a statement on existence. We cannot have love without hate. We cannot have a bird without feathers, or a Water lily without feet, or morning without day. However, the last line suggests a search, a quest of some sort.

    1. Maybe, but I'd expect something about evening or night or darkness if ED were using dialectic. But I like the idea of the quest. She ends with herself as Pilgrim -- so someone who wants to travel to Morning.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I think "morning" represents hope. She longs for it but cannot find evidence of it anywhere. She tries to find it but it is lost to her.

  5. In 12 short lines ED asks 6 rhetorical questions, and yes, there is a “tad of sarcasm” in them. She’s 29 and all her life she’s been watching for some solid evidence that heaven exists and souls rise from the dead. The only trip ED ever really wanted to take was a quick round-trip visit to Heaven, if it exists, and now she serious doubts about that.

    This poem is ED’s challenge to all "scholars, sailors, and Wise Men from the skies” to lay their cards on the table. Meanwhile, she plays poker-faced, “Please to tell a little Pilgrim”, fairly certain they’re bluffing with their Sunday dogma. Her challenge in the last two lines goes unanswered.