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03 December 2012

Good morning—Midnight!

Good morning—Midnight!

I'm coming home,

Day—got tired of me—

How could I—of him?

Sunshine was a sweet place—

I liked to stay—

But Morn—didn't want me—now—

So good night—Day!

I can look—can’t I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You are not so fair—Midnight—
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!

                                                                       F382 (1862)  425

If we look back at F161, "The Daisy follows soft the Sun," we see a shy flower adoringly turning its hopeful face towards the grand sun as he makes his daily journey across the sky. The sun in that poem is probably standing in for Samuel Bowles, family friend, editor, and Dickinson's supposed love interest. In that poem she looks forward to "night's possibility." But those were perhaps happier and more hopeful times. Here she is dully resigned to night for where else can she go? But she sees no possibilities there this time. In fact, she ends by hoping that night won't reject her, too.
          The first line is pretty catchy: "Good morning—Midnight!" It lets us know that the poet isn't talking about literal midnight, for she is greeting the dead of night first thing in the morning. "Morn--didn't want me," she says, and flips the opening line to "So good night—Day!" And so the speaker retreats to some inner darkness she chooses to think of as night. She's "coming home" after a brief sojourn out where she learned that "Day—got tired of me." Talk about picking up your toys and going home! I imagine her pulling her curtains and being all melancholy and self pitying in her room. Fortunately, Dickinson didn't just sulk in her room or take bubble baths or a hot shower like the rest of us. She sat down and wrote poetry. (Luckily she did this when she was feeling good, too.)  
           The third stanza is particularly plaintive. The speaker asks pathetically if she can't at least look at Morn "When the East is Red" and the hills all aglow. What's the old expression—a cat can look at a king?  At the end of the poem the speaker asks Midnight to "take a little Girl" who had been rejected by Morn. But the speaker doesn't put the best face on it for poor old Midnight. No, he is "not so fair," and is a distinct second choice. But she makes an appeal to his sense of pity. She is an unhappy, rejected child, but she seems to have little doubt that night will take her in.
         This poem may be inspired by Bowles, just as F161 probably was. Between that poem and this one, however, are numerous rather ecstatic pieces that imply everything from sexual passion to a heavenly marriage (consider F325, F194, and F269). Perhaps there was some slight or neglect that made the poet feel her lover, Day, had "turned away" from her.
         It's also possible to read this poem in religious terms. Dickinson had difficulties with the Christianity of her day. She wasn't sure about salvation or Jesus as preached and taught in her day, although in many poems she is longing for both and for a heavenly existence. In these terms Day might refer to the eternity promised by salvation. Dawn and the East are metaphors Dickinson (and tradition) has used for heaven and resurrection. Perhaps she is describing a spiritual slump here. Jesus has gotten tired of her lack of resolve and faith. Salvation and the resurrection are denied her--but she can at least look at a distance. What is left for her is the eternal night of death. It's not her first choice, and that night is not nearly as fair as Morn, but at least she will have a home--for that's what she provocatively says in the second line: "I'm coming home." Dust to dust.


  1. I see this as the pained part of her choice to seclude herself more and more deeply in her own house, her own thoughts, in her realm beyond thoughts.

    Her poems, so diverse during this fecund period, are coming fast and furious. She needn't be dwelling in self-pity to get a whiff of it, strong enough scent to make a whole poem. Then her mood changes and on to the next exhilaration.

  2. This poem tells us "Polar night".

  3. Her vision and eye problems? Actual insomnia?

  4. On re-reading this poem I wince at my commentary. I think the first comment by Anonymous has it pretty right. She is 'coming home' to Midnight where she delves and probes and unleashes her creativity.

  5. Holly Doan SpraulMay 15, 2022 at 2:06 PM

    A self acceptance (as flawed and/or mortal)---a settling into a reality that wasn't as fair as the young girl's naive hopes, but is in the end the narrator's true reality. The narrator begs that reality to absorb the naiveté and return her embrace of enlightenment.

    1. That makes some sense and is a pleasing reading. Yet there's an unmistakeable sense of rejection in the poem (which isn't incompatible to the painful loss of 'naive hopes') that I think is more pointed than just a growing up, sadder but wiser.

  6. Taken literally, ED’s Line 1, “Good morning—Midnight!”, scoops by 87 years Orwell’s doublespeak: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and 2 + 2 = 5”. (Orwell, G, ‘1984’, 1949).

    “Day” and “Midnight”, taken as metaphors for Heaven and Hell, or Jesus and (Mephistopheles ???) requires a fevered or at least a fertile imagination. Even ED, the skeptic, harbored no ill will toward Jesus.

    “Day—got tired of me—” and “You are not so fair—Midnight”, taken as metaphors for two men, makes sense to me, but who are they?

    Franklin dates ‘Good – Midnight’ about autumn 1862. We know Wadsworth moved to San Francisco, apparently permanently, during June 1862 and that ED felt abandoned by him. Yes, Bowles was stimulating intellectually and a flirt with many women. He also received many poems from ED, but apparently rarely returned comments. He made no secret of ED’s inscrutability as far as he was concerned.

    We also know that in April 1862 ED proactively sought and found a replacement mentor for Wadsworth, Thomas Higginson. She had no history with him as she did with Wadsworth, but he was an Atlantic Monthly editor and she thought he might offer comments on poems, as Susan Dickinson had been doing for a decade. Early evidence, for example, the preceding poem, ‘I cannot dance opon my toes', a clever joke at Higginson’s expense’, show she was not bowled over by him, pardon the pun, but he was someone she could correspond with about poetry, etc.

    Bottom line, “Day” and “Midnight” are Wadsworth and Higginson.