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21 August 2012

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple

Leaping like Leopards to the Sky
Then at the feet of the old Horizon
Laying her spotted Face to die
Stooping as low as the Otter's Window
Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn
Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow
And the Juggler of Day is gone.
                                                            F321 (1862)  228

The sun really does have a spotted face
The sun blazes gold on the eastern horizon as it rises; its blaze is quenched in the purple hues of the of late evening. The sun does seem to sail up pretty quickly, but I’m not sure I agree that it leaps “like Leopards”—and that’s one leopard too many, if one is to be picky. But perhaps Dickinson is thinking of Helios driving his horses with the sun chariot across the sky. But Dickinson likes to use leopards in her poems—at least she has in two previous ones (here and here).
            The next lines take us to day’s end. Like a human woman, day’s face becomes “spotted” as it progresses through time. But before she dies, she stoops as low as the river bank where the otter makes its home, shedding her last light on the roof, painting the barn with sunset colors, and leaving a final kiss of light with the crown of the sun as she sinks beneath the western horizon.
            In the last line, where daylight or the sun is named “the Juggler of Day,” we see the sun not as Helios or an old woman or as leopards but rather as a circus performer dressed as modern-day clowns in blazing golds and purples and with a heavily-marked or spotted face. This, then, is the image of day—an actor staging dazzling feats for the enjoyment of the audience who might stop from time to time throughout the day to admire the performance.
            Dickinson makes use of the present progressive tense to carry the poem in a rush—as if the day flew by in one seating: blazing, quenching, leaping, laying, stooping, touching, and kissing. Quite a show! The words begin each of their lines with a trochaic emphasis that  provides a forward energy. It’s almost acrobatic.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I liked the interpretation. I was dazzled whether she was speaking about the sun or something else, because she speaks about sun with 'she' which was so confusing for me. Thanks for the illustration though!

    1. It's true that the sun is often anthropomorphized as a "he" but Dickinson here treats the sun as a woman. It's a hodge-podge of imagery, but then the sun really does take on a variety of looks and moods as it progresses through the sky.

      Thanks for reading and commenting

  3. This poem could be about the sun, or about daylilies, or both.

  4. Dear Susan, first of all thank you for your comments to Emily's poems. I'm a singer / songwriter and greatly inspired by her poems. I like reading your interpretations. This very colorful one inspired me to write a song which I feel is a bit related to the music of Toto. To me it's about the flight of butterfly, describing a scenery which comes quite close to "Two Butterflies went out at Noon". Of course it has this multilayered greatness which characterizes the work of Emily. I hope you can answer a question I have. I'm working on a CD whit songs based on Emily's poems. Am I free to publish her poems in the booklet which goes with the CD? Or are there still some rights attached to her work? Thank you, kind regards, Jeroen

    1. I can visualize butterflies in this poem. Thanks for the thought.

      I'm not knowledgeable about copyrights, but perhaps older publications/versions of Dickinson's work have outlived any copyright protection.

  5. Hi Susan, I wonder if the 'spotted' face of the sun is an extension of the simile of the Leopard(s) evoked in line 2, being a reference to the visual nature of its fur? In addition, and in concordance with your thoughts, I feel that the word is simultaneously an allusion to a blotching of the skin, ie. to age spots. This dual implication of the word thereby aptly bridges the gap between the leopard simile and the subsequent "human" metaphor of the sun as an old maid in her bonnet.

    I also wonder if Dickinson employed the image of an extremely agile exotic creature such as the leopard to perhaps not suggest the passage of the sun from east to west, which, as you say, would seem a slower movement, but instead to allude to the incredibly rapid speed of light itself?

    Furthermore, the fact that the Leopards are plural in line 2, but are then reduced to a single, tame creature coming to rest at its owner's (the Horizon's) feet could also be explained in line with Dickinson's general possible meaning. The pluralisation of the noun in line 2 suggests the greater heat and potency of the sun earlier in the day, whilst the single leopard suggests the lesser strength or energy of the sun as it makes its steady decline to its ultimate demise.

    As you mention, in the final line, the sun is described in different terms again, being likened to a performer or 'Showman'. Just as the chamelion nature of the sun and the sky change throughout the course of the day, Dickinson similarly juggles with a variety of images throughout the poem.

    Stylistically, the abudance of verbs and the extraordinary enjambment (rare for Dickinson not to use a dash!) are also striking. Both convey the unfettered movement of the sun across the sky, an overarching movement that no impediment can hinder.

    1. I have to agree with you on the spotted face evoking that of the leopard. And now I'm thinking that the reason there are leopards is that "Leaping like a leapard" just sounds clunky whereas "Leaping like Leopards" just leaps -- and keeps a tight alliteration.

  6. Hi Susan, I am inclined to agree with your above point; the lateral alliteration of 'Leaping like Leopards' conveys a sense of unhindered sprightly energy which the article 'a' would somewhat interrupt, had Dickinson just referred to a single leopard in this particular line.

    On reading the poem closely, it appears there are four principal metaphors/similes that Dickinson employs.
    In line 1, the sun is likened to a fire. This fire blazes intensely as it rises during the day, and then falters as it sinks ('quenching in Purple').
    In lines 2-4, the sun is then likened to a leopard(s), whose yellowish fur appropriately echoes the golden hue of the fire in the line 1. The spotted nature of the creature's fur may, as you say, implicitly refer to the actual spots on the sun, or even to small clouds that appear to dot its surface as it sets. As mentioned above, the extremely agile nature of the leopard could also perhaps suggest the blinding speed of the sun's rays darting through space.
    In lines 5-7, the simile is transformed into the metaphor of an old lady/maid who is described as 'stooping' and 'kissing' her bonnet to the meadow, as if maternally bidding nature and humanity goodnight. This tender departure of the sun implies that it will return, for it will only die to live again the following day, rich and resplendent.
    In the final line, the metaphor takes on a different guise yet again, as the sun is likened to a 'Juggler'. As you mention, this casts the sun as a performer who puts on an ever changing spectacle for the diminutive audience of humanity.

    There is a palpable humour and playful quality to the poem, with the rapid metamorphosing of the imagery and witty references to nature such as the 'Otter's window' (perhaps suggesting the hole of its den in the low riverbed).

    1. Hi there, I was really interested in your interpretation and was wondering if i would be able to email you to understand some of your thoughts on other poems written by Dickinson as im a student studying literature currently focusing on Dickinsons suite of poetry

      If possible, did you have an email i would be able to send you questions through?

    2. You can always use the contact form in the right column. That goes to my email. I can't guarantee I can give you responses to all or in timely manner -- but it can't hurt to ask. Best wishes to you.