The Violet — is Noon —
The Yellow — Day — is falling —
And after that — is None —
But Miles of Sparks — at Evening —
Reveal the Width that burned —
The Territory Argent — that never yet — consumed —
F603 (1863) J469
The hot course of the sun is charted against the night sky in this short poem. Dickinson sketches the sun as if it were a bonfire: its first red blaze ignites the day, its hotter blue flame burns at noon, and its fainter yellow light subsides with dusk.
Night in contrast, is illuminated by the silvery light of astral bodies. Their "Miles of Sparks" light the vast realm of sky burned by the great sun as if they were the remaining embers flung from the fire. Dickinson refers to night as the "Territory Argent" – a term in heraldry for silvery or white. It's a lovely phrase that today we can really only appreciate after a night in the open far from cities.
The last line is a bit ambiguous. The argent territory might never have been consumed by the mighty sun or else its cooler light never burns or consumes. Perhaps Dickinson intends the poetic truth of both meanings. The eternal mysteries of night cannot be extinguished or consumed. The sun, like earthly life, runs its course, fading at last into that darker Territory.
|The Territory Argent: photo by Corvis, The Guardian
Dickinson alternates masculine endings with feminine endings throughout the poem, i.e., accented syllables vs. unaccented syllables: Morning, falling, evening, Argent (I count the last line of the poem as two lines put together in order to avoid what would otherwise be rather singsong-y if the line were broken at "Argent"). The contrast between those languishing feminine rhymes and the masculine (Noon, None, burned, consumed) echoes the poem's contrast of night with day.