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21 August 2013

Rest at Night

Rest at Night
The Sun from shining,
Nature — and some Men —
Rest at Noon — some Men —
While Nature
And the Sun — go on —

                                                           F490 (1862)  J714

If by "Rest" Dickinson means "death" (at least for people) then this is a rather sad poem despite its blasé tone. If, however, "Rest" means "Rest" or "sleep," then the poem is rather a sly commentary on party animals and lazybones. This is one of Dickinson's epigrammatic poems.
    There are two parallel parts: the first, "Rest at Night" sketches the norm. The sun rests at night as do the rest of Nature "and some Men." Notice that humanity is not assumed to be part of Nature. Notice that clearly some folks are excepted; these are either the party animals – up all night – or the dead. In the second section we are told that Nature and the Sun go about their business at Noon, but that "some Men" will be resting.  These are either the lazybones (a class with a lot of overlap with "party animals") or the dead.
Catching up on sleep. Late night?
    The parallelism is quite intrically woven into the poetry. Each half has seven metrical feet and begins with an inverted verb phrase (Rest …) followed by the verb's subject. The one element that is repeated is "some Men": they can rest either – or both – at night and at noon. Clearly humanity is distinct from Nature. While the natural world lives by cycles of light and weather, humans can remove themselves from the cycles altogether.
            I should add, though, that if the poem is about death coming either at night or day, then there is no distinction to be made. Men who die are simply coming to the end of their life cycle and taking part in the larger circle of life.

I don't think that Dickinson is talking about death in this poem, though. I read it as droll and slyly sophisticated, a witticism very much in the epigram style.


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  2. I found this blog by chance, and I'm happy because I love Emily Dickinson .I'm from Venezuela, South america..Thanks for share these wonderful poems

  3. What do you make of the word Rests in the first line, what does it refer to, as compared to Rest in the fourth line, which seems to relate to some men?

    1. The word means the same thing: rest = sleep/lying down. At night the sun rests from shining, nature rests (many animals, etc.), and "some men" -- those asleep. Who rests at Noon? Not the sun, not Nature; only "some men". Those men might be resting in their graves or lazing about at home. In my commentary I thought the latter; now that I re-read the poem, I think the former.

  4. Line 1 of ED’s manuscript clearly reads “Rests at Night”, third person present tense singular of the verb “Rest”, as in “The Sun rests at Night”, and that would be my preference.

    Apparently, her editors, Bingham (1945), Johnson (1955), and Franklin (1998), considered ED’s verb an error because the subject in Lines 1-3 is a complicated plural, “Sun, Nature, — and some Men”, but ED’s erroneous “Rests” sounds better to me than the editors correct “Rest”. In Lines 4-6, the subject is clearly plural, as in “some Men Rest at Noon”. “While Nature and the Sun — go on” is an adverb clause with verb, “go” or “go on”.

    Did the editors really think they improved her poem? This was exactly the kind of editorial arrogance ED complained of for the dozen poems published during her lifetime, most of them without her permission.

  5. The diversity of the five poems, F486-F490, astonishes. ED seemed to have a reason for the order of poems in fascicles, and these five poems are consecutive in Fascicle 23, #s 23-8 through 23-12. Her logic escapes me, but it ain't "The Very First Time".