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06 September 2013

The Day undressed — Herself —

Garter of gold
The Day undressed — Herself —
Her Garter — was of Gold —
Her Petticoat of Purple — plain —
Her Dimities as old

Exactly — as the World
And yet the newest Star
Enrolled upon the Hemisphere
Be wrinkled — much as Her —

Too near to God — to pray —
Too near to Heaven — to fear —
The Lady of the Occident
Retired without a Care —

Her Candle so expire
The flickering be seen
On Ball of Mast — in Bosporus —
And Dome — and Window Pane.

                                                                               F495 (1862)  J716

This charming poem has the sun undressing herself at night. We see the garments scattered across the sky: her golden garter would be the wispy gold clouds; the purple petticoat, a darkening cumulous cloud. Her "Dimities" might be her dress, or apron, or a delicate chemise. These would be the opalescent or sheer white clouds.
        Dickinson fancies these Dimities are as old as the world itself, although no doubt she is suggesting that the sun, rather than her undies, and the world are the same age (and I think she knew better as she enjoyed the study of astronomy). The sun is so old that even newer stars are as wrinkled as she is. Well, that takes the fun out of seeing the old girl take her clothes off!
Dimity blouse
  This lady makes her rounds high in the heavens. God is so close she doesn't have to say her evening prayers. She is so near the Christian Heaven that she has no fear of it.. One wonders what might fearful – other than the fear of not making it to heaven. I suspect Dickinson means the sun has no fear of dying and being judged of being worthy or not. In F437, "I never felt at Home – Below," Dickinson predicts that she won't "like Paradise – / / Because it's Sunday – all the time – / And Recess – never comes." Clearly the poet has lost her own fear of heaven by this time!
        The sun simply goes to sleep, retires in the west, or the Occident, "without a Care. The flickering of her candle as she sinks below the horizon can be seen from a ship's mast, from the Strait of Istanbul, from domes and even from the bedroom windowpane.

I think this poem compares well to Dickinson's other sunset poems. In case you want to read them, here's a list. Remember, you can just copy the title into the search bar (under the blog header) to get to the poem.

F297, "This is the land – the Sunset washes": the sky is the sea and purple sunset clouds are the boats unloading their "Opal Bales."

F327, "How the old Mountains drip with Sunset": a series of sunset imagery.

F468, "Whole Gulfs – of Red, and Fleets – of Red": imagines the sunset to be a red gulf with a fleet of red ships crewed by sailors "of solid Blood."

F119 "If this is 'fading'": is bit of sunset rapture from a simpler time when people paid attention to sunset – after all, there wasn't electricity, so sunset actually heralded the onset of dark!

F182, "The Sun kept stooping – stooping – low!": portrays the setting sun as a splendid warrior battling the growing troops of darkness.

F296, "Where Ships of Purple – gently toss": once again has the inversion of sea with sky; here, the ships are purple clouds.

F321, "Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple": shows the sun, the "Juggler of Day," being quenched by purpling darkness.

F204, "I'll tell you how the Sun rose": has the evening sky a "purple stile" that the yellow clouds like boys and girls climb over.

F233, "A slash of Blue! A sweep of Gray": compares the sunset (in my reading of the poem) to the gathering Union and Confederate soldiers in their blue and gray uniforms.


  1. Thank you for your thoroughness. Reading your blog gives me the joy of knowing you have written this out of your own joy.

  2. Dimity is a type of cotton cloth, but in the context of this poem it is an article of clothing, namely underwear.

    A dimity is a bit of draping worn by performers of the Poses Plastiques, which was an early form of strip tease. Performers wore flesh colored silk body stockings and a dimity to give the illusion of modesty.

    In the Finale of Act I of The Pirates of Penzance, the Pirates sing, "Pray observe the magnanimity we display to lace and dimity"

  3. "Her Candle so expire
    The flickering be seen
    On Ball of Mast — in Bosporus —
    And Dome — and Window Pane."

    ED’s west-facing bedroom window pane, immediately above her small writing desk, was on Homestead's second floor, an excellent place to watch Sun’s last “flickering”.