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27 April 2012

The Sun – just touched the Morning –

The Sun – just touched the Morning – 
The Morning – Happy thing – 
Supposed that He had come to dwell – 
And Life would all be Spring!

She felt herself supremer – 
A Raised – Ethereal Thing!
Henceforth – for Her – What Holiday!
Meanwhile – Her wheeling King – 
Trailed – slow – along the Orchards – 
His haughty – spangled Hems – 
Leaving a new necessity!
The want of Diadems!
The Morning – fluttered – staggered – 
Felt feebly – for Her Crown – 
Her unanointed forehead – 
Henceforth – Her only One!
                                                            F246 (1861)  232

“The Daisy follows soft the Sun” (F161) has been considered by some scholars to be a love poem about unrequited but faithful love. In this simple story of an anthropomorphized Morning who is bewildered and “staggered” by the sun’s seeming desertion as the day moves forward,  the unhappy course of a one-sided love affair is portrayed in even more desolate imagery. The conceit of the poem depends on imagining Morning as an independent entity lingering in some undefined state until “touched” (“just touched,” in fact, to make the one-sidedness of the relationship more pronounced) by the Sun on his daily round. Or perhaps every Morning is different and this one, like a new ingénue or debutante, had just emerged. Poor naïve thing: she felt that this simple touch meant so much more than it actually did. The Sun would live with her forever and then it would be non-stop Spring! Alas, readers will be shaking their heads. It just doesn’t work that way. Hope may spring eternal, but spring itself is ephemeral.
Who needs a crown with hair
like this? (Louis XIV - Sun King)
            But the inexperienced Morning felt uplifted. Her life from now on would not be a banal string of day upon day, but rather hold the delights of a perpetual “Holiday.”
Helios, Sun God, and his Chariot
bringing the sun across the sky
            The sun, the King (and the sun and kings are often equated – think of Hyperion the Sun God, or Louis XIV the Sun King) is portrayed as distant and “haughty” with his fancy “spangled Hems.” He wheels majestically through the day until, lowering in the west, he trails slowly over the orchard leaving poor Morning far behind. For Morning can never follow her lord into the later realms of Day and Night.
            Morning’s response is just what we would expect from an abandoned maiden: she “fluttered” faintly, staggering with the shock. We see her feeling her head “feebly” for the crown she felt must have been granted her, but there is none. Instead, she will have to live with her “unanointed forehead” for the rest of her life.
            This last image implies a seduction. The Sun has deflowered Morning leaving her in the “necessity” of a diadem or crown – or wedding ring. But alas, she realizes that no such pledge or emblem of reciprocal love and faithfulness will be forthcoming. The image recalls an earlier poem (F194):
Title divine,  is mine.
The Wife  without the Sign  –
Acute Degree conferred on me  –
Empress of Calvary  –
Royal, all but the Crown  –
Betrothed, without the Swoon
God gives us Women –
When You hold  Garnet to Garnet  –
Gold  –  to Gold  –
Born  –  Bridalled  –  Shrouded  –
In a Day -
Tri Victory  –
"My Husband"  –  Women say -
Stroking the Melody  –
Is this  –  the way –

In this earlier poem, however, the poet holds on to the faith that although she doesn’t have the Crown she is still “Royal” and “Betrothed.” That confidence is missing from the current poem where the devastated Morning feels betrayed. 


  1. What a treat! I discovered that poem (and later, this blog of yours) this morning and I'm hooked on both. Whimsy and bravado are what I felt at first, if I'm remembering right: first the whimsy of "supremer" --- you've got to be smiling when you say this, don't you? Then those two "henceforths," the second one taking back the first (as in Henceforth the sun will make me happy always; oops, that is, henceforth I'll not rely on any old Sun to crown me).
    What a treat your project is. Best of luck with it! (Emily does enjoy exclamations, doesn't she. If it's not a dash, that is.)

  2. Thanks! I do love the "supremer." Great comment on the two "henceforths"--I hadn't seen them until you pointed it out. I wish I had the book with reproductions of her actual poems as apparently her dashes varied in length, adding additional nuance.

  3. This poem keeps coming back! I live now in Borrego Springs, down in the Southern Californian desert, where we're nestled beneath mountains rising some 4,000 feet above us on the western side, and nothing at all on the east, so when morning comes it comes with a blaze, setting our mountains aglow. It's wonderful.

    The Sun just kissed Borrego.
    She blushed, all pinks and reds,
    And wondered, Would he kiss again?
    "Tomorrow," 's all he said.

    It's such a wild conceit, Emily's setting up the Morning as an independent being with no necessary relation at all to the Sun, and then insisting at the end that she carry on her existence just so. Is this the bravado of American cultural independence? A poetic version of Emerson's famous essay about Self Reliance? Or maybe Popeye claiming I am what I am, even though I also kind of realize I wouldn't actually be, without You?

    It's a curious extreme, in any case.

    When reciting this poem to myself I'll often mix up the line about the Sun trailing his robes "along" the orchards. "Across" the orchards usually occurs to me first. Maybe this is because "across" sounds more haughty; that old king doesn't care who or what he steps on. Possible?

    Thank you for all the splendid Emilypoem reading you've given us!

    1. Morning is the Always Virgin awaiting her sunny knight and never exposed to the dangerous night. Every morning is hopeful -- until it wises up. When I re-read the poem this morning I found it very funny -- a sketch of a melodramatic, overly-romantic sun groupie. So I think, like Austen's Northhanger Abbey, it's a bit of a send-up of the Romantic.
      Love your Borrego homage. I just google-earthed it and the area as I'll be taking an Xmas road trip through Death Valley on the way to Arizona. Looks like gorgeous country.

  4. Very insightful. I didn't think this poem had much meaning further than describing a morning but your description has got me thinking. Yes, it does fully describe an unrequited love with the morning being someone who saw more meaning than there was in the another's gestures.

    It could also represent a human response to a spring of good luck. While, luck impersonally flows and ebbs throughout time, we are often prone to believing that it is we who have invoked it. We also think that the status quo is likely to last forever, especially when we are very happy and rejoicing at our fate. I believe she wrote another poem where she described pain as a blank slate that had trouble recalling or forecasting a time when it did not exist. This poem appears to have a similar theme on the brighter side.

    1. Ah, you are an Optimist. The other sort sees bad luck and assumes that is the nature of things. I can see your point in this poem about the response to a string of good luck. Then there's the inevitable clutching about for the missing Diadem...

  5. Interesting point about the implied seduction in this poem — provides more color for the interpretation of the first line.

  6. I thought explication and comments of F244, ‘We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing –’, were as close to heaven as an ED groupie could get, but E&Cs of this poem proved me wrong. What can we say but “Thank You Susan!”

    PS. Common courtesy would keep a decent person from asking how you intuit feelings of jilt so well. As they say: Been there! Done that!

    1. Why, thank you! And as for the jilting, no direct experience needed with Emily's portrayal to illuminate!

  7. “The Sun – just touched the Morning –
    The Morning – Happy thing –
    Supposed that He had come to dwell –
    And Life would all be Spring!”

    What a whimsical opening stanza. “The Morning – Happy thing -” has been “just touched” by her secret love, “The Sun”. She senses herself “supremer – A Raised – Ethereal Thing!” She’s in LOVE, happy as a butterfly. “Henceforth” her life’s a glorious “Holiday!”

    Have you been there, done that, walked on air, then too soon heard the harsh hiss of first-love air seep slowly out of your balloon? Reality seeps in, “Henceforth”, for the rest of your life?

    “The Morning – fluttered – staggered –
    Felt feebly – for Her Crown –
    Her unanointed forehead –
    Henceforth – Her only One!”

    What a masterpiece of day-after humor, and, as Stephen King says, “Humor is almost always anger with its make-up on” (Bag of Bones, 1998).

  8. ED planted the seed of ‘The Sun – just touched the Morning –’ (F246), in her brain when she drafted Master Letter 1, which Franklin dates spring 1858 (The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1986):

    “You ask me what my flowers said - then they were disobedient - I gave them messages. They said what the lips in the West, say, when the sun goes down, and so says the Dawn."

    In a January 13, 1854 letter to T. W. Higginson (L153), ED told us why Morning’s dream in Stanza 1 died at the end of Stanza 2:

    “When a little Girl, I had a friend, who taught me Immortality-but venturing too near, himself - he never returned [1], - Soon after, my Tutor, died [2] - and for several years, my Lexicon [3] - was my only companion - Then I found one more [4] - but he was not contented I be his scholar-so he left the Land.”

    [1] Leonard Humphrey (1825-1850) became principal of Amherst Academy in 1847, when ED was 16. He died unexpectedly at age 25, when ED was 20. “[W]hen the young man died in 1850 she felt she had lost a preceptor rather than a friend or equal: . . . the hour of evening is sad – it was once my study hour – my Master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed Humphrey.”

    [2] Benjamin F. Newton, who apprenticed with ED’s lawyer father when she was age 16-18, 1847-1849, died March XX, 1853 of tuberculosis. See TPB Comment 2 on F245, God permits industrious Angels –’.

    [3] Webster’s 1844 printing of ‘American Dictionary of the English Language’.

    [4] Her Master (of the three Master Letters, IMO), Rev. Charles Wadsworth (CW, 1814–1882), whom ED heard preach and personally met at Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in March 1855, when she was 24. He was mysteriously charismatic, according to contemporary reports, which perfectly suited ED. Something compelled CW to visit ED in Amherst in March 1860, a year before she copied this poem (F246) into her fascicle,

    CW left his pastorate in Philadelphia in early April 1862 to minister seven years at a large San Francisco church. When he “left the land”, she was devastated; her husband (in heaven, she hoped) had jilted her. CW returned to his original church in Philadelphia in 1869 and made a second and final pilgrimage to visit ED in Amherst in August 1880. Obviously, there was something powerful pulling the distinguished Reverend Charles Wadsworth to Amherst from Philadelphia, a trip of more than 250 miles.

  9. In my preceding comment, Paragraph 3 should read "In her second letter to T. W. Higginson (L261, April 25, 1862), ED told us why Morning’s dream in Stanza 1 died at the end of Stanza 2: