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10 February 2012

The Sun kept stooping – stooping – low!

The Sun kept stooping – stooping – low!
The Hills to meet him rose!
On his side, what Transaction!
On their side, what Repose!

Deeper and deeper grew the stain
Upon the window pane –
Thicker and thicker stood the feet
Until the Tyrian

Was crowded dense with Armies –
So gay, so Brigadier –
That I felt martial stirrings
Who once the Cockade wore –

Charged from my chimney corner –
But Nobody was there!
                                                - 182 ( 1860)  152

Emily Dickinson spent a lot of time in her room. She once showed her niece how to turn the key against intruders and thus have a world of her own. In addition to poetry she wrote many, many letters there. But we can also assume from her poems and letters that she pent a good deal of time looking out her windows. She had two: one facing south and the other facing west – hence the many sunset poems. She had a perfect view! The “chimney corner” was across from the windows.
            It is from this vantage that Dickinson writes about this particular sunset. She adopts both a martial tone and martial imagery. Her repetitions and exclamation marks propel the poem with forward momentum that contributes to the sense of charge.  The Sun is “stooping – stooping – low!” while “The Hills to meet him rose!” The shadow on the window grows “Deeper and deeper” while the feet of darkness stand “Thicker and thicker.”
            Dickinson had probably read this 1854 poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, valorizing the cavalry men of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War:

Cockade of U.S. Navy
John Paul Jones
  Charge of the Light Brigade
  Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
  All in the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
  When can their glory fade?
  O the wild charge they made!
  All the world wonder'd.
  Honour the charge they made!
  Honour the Light Brigade,
  Noble six hundred!

Tyrean Purple
The cadence here is of galloping horses. Dickinson’s poem is more an engaged trot than the full battle charge but it also uses the drum beat of repetition.
            As the shadows begin their victory over the sun the beautiful Tyrian purple of sunset battles in colors “So gay, so Brigadier,” that Dickinson, like Tennyson, feels compelled to honor the battle. But the brilliant colors, like the Light Brigade, are outnumbered by the foe and soon turn dark with the shadow armies. This threatened defeat  rouses the poet who playfully claims that she charged out of her cosy little chimney corner – only, of course, to find that “Nobody was there!”


  1. Dear Ms. Kornfeld:
    I was looking for a simple and sensible interpretation of this poem to help one of my students (for a college sophomore lit survey), and I find yours impressive. I wouldn't mind getting to know you, as a fellow poet of similar taste and inclination. If interested, you can look me up on the website of the Threadbare Art Collective ( My name is Marie C. Jones, third from the top of the list. If you like my work there, you can friend me on Facebook, or email me at Thank you for posting such useful comments about Dickinson! Best Regards.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts on this poem, which I originally found on the Morgan Library website announcing a new exhibition on Emily Dickinson. I found The Sun Kept Stooping to be enigmatic (as usual), though my image was of a view of steadily creeping sunset. However, I saw another dubious interpretation of this poem as marching ants(!). I'm so glad to find an affirming interpretation here. Eddie

  3. I love these lines:
    Deeper and deeper grew the stain
    Upon the window pane –
    Thicker and thicker stood the feet

    and I love her volta toward playfulness at the end.

  4. How many of us lament loss of youthful inspiration, an ebbing capacity to feel mystery in a setting sun? Stanzas 1-3 lay the scene: A sunset deepens into purple until it’s an army, exciting ED’s imagination. In bygone days she would rush eagerly, seize inspiration. Stanza 4 suddenly turns the poem. Now when she charges from her chimney corner, nobody’s there, Nothing happens, No inspiration, Nada, She feels only lost youth. How sad, how sadly true.