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21 February 2012

"Morning" – means "Milking" – to the Farmer –

"Morning" – means "Milking" – to the Farmer –
Dawn – to the Tenerife –
Dice – to the Maid –
Morning means just Risk – to the Lover –
Just Revelation – to the Beloved –

Epicures – date a Breakfast – by it –
Brides – an Apocalypse –
Worlds – a Flood –
Faint-going Lives – Their Lapse from Sighing –
Faith – The Experiment of Our Lord
                                                            - F191 (1861)  300

This is a list poem that explores morning by listing what it means to various people. The first stanza  uses the format “Morning means …” for each line. In the second stanza the format changes and each line has to be jiggled a bit. Here’s a reconstruction and paraphrase:

Epicures plan their delicious breakfasts in the morning
Brides experience an Apocalypse the morning after
Worlds experienced a flooded world one morning
Faint-going Lives wake up and temporarily cease their sighing in the morning
Faith is the experience and suffering of Jesus who died in the belief that he and humanity would be resurrected in the morning that follows death. (Note: Dickinson used “Experiment” at times to mean “Experience,” “feeling,” or “suffering” [per the Emily Dickinson Lexicon:].

Morning not so great if you
weren't on that ark
The grammatical sketchiness of the poem makes the reader is an active participant in the meaning. Why, for example, does morning mean “Dice” to the maiden? Is she trying for her chance at love and marriage? Is marriage just a game of chance? “Risk – to the Lover – ” may mean the risk of discovery: oops – he’s overstayed and now dawn is breaking. But why “Revelation” to the Beloved? Has she been awakened to physical love for the first time? Or is seeing her lover’s face beside her in the glow of dawn a revelation? Reader, I leave it to your own opinions. I personally find it a very rich way of writing poetry.
Morning not so bad if you
are a farmer

            But note that each stanza begins with easy list items and then graduates to the harder. Sure, morning means milking to the farmer – it’s what he does every darn day. Sure, it means dawn on the sunny isle of Tenerife. But then the associations become less clear and more provocative. In the second stanza we can feel pretty confident about the association of breakfast with morning – and the anticipation of gourmet epicures for that repast. And we can imagine that the first morning of wedded life is, for the bride, something of an apocalypse in her life. Everything has changed. And so it goes on to that difficult last line. 


  1. Hi Susan,

    To dice means cut food to pieces... 2. cut (food or other matter) into small cubes...."dice the peppers"

    Can one see the sentence "Dice to the Maid" as referring to a morning chore of a maid cutting vegetables... I am not an expert but kind of felt that this could have been the meaning..

    1. That makes a lot of sense. I just checked the ED Lexicon and that gives only gaming meanings - as if every morning were a new gamble. I don't know -- your reading seems more likely.

  2. For me, "Dice – to the Maid" means 'Another chance for the Maiden to find a new beau'.

  3. The last line, “Faith – The Experiment of Our Lord”, is the turning point of the poem. With it, ED reminds us that Jesus spent his life reinterpreting the Old Testament in a way that challenged the authority of both Jews and Romans. Inevitably, his campaign of populism angered both groups, but he chose to walk the talk even if it meant crucifixion. His faith that God would resurrect his spirit from physical death was a gamble, which ED calls “The Experiment of Our Lord”. She’s not telling us the outcome of the experiment nor that she believes in resurrection; she’s telling us she considers such faith The Ultimate Game of Chance.

  4. I took the Beloved to refer to John, who wrote the book of Revelations. I’m not sure why it says “just revelation” though. Maybe it was all he focused on each morning?