Search This Blog

30 May 2015

The Red — Blaze — is the Morning —

The Red — Blaze — is the Morning —
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
        The light of the astral plane is also more contemplative, less dangerous to gaze upon. Lovers and poets flourish under its nocturnal beauty. It nurtures rather than consumes. In "The first Day's Night had come" [F423], Dickinson presents the night as hope. After some terrible calamity the poet is grateful for the coming of night. It signals that the travails of day "had been endured". During the night her Soul gives her "work" to "mend" her "until another Morn".

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.


  1. Call me silly, but the rhythm of this poem reminds me of "This Little Piggy Went to Market." But I digress.

    The Territory Argent is Earth's coat of arms. It remains regardless of what is going on with the Sun on Earth.

    1. Now I have the piggies in my head. Thanks!
      I'm not sure what you mean about the Territory Argent. Do you mean it is the earth somehow protected? Or the starry firmament?

    2. I love this short poem by Dickinson; thank you for providing your insightful analysis. In addition to the varying hues of the sky at different times of the day, I am also drawn to the words 'miles' and 'width' which suggest the endless expanse of the night sky. The reference to colour is wonderful, and by foregrounding the different colours, Dickinson is emphasising the visual splendour of the sky, as well as suggesting the radiating heat of the day. With the poem's emphasis on colour, I wonder if Dickinson is indirectly competing with the landscape painter, showing us that what the artist can do with paint, the poet can do with words?

    3. Yes, almost as if she is writing with crayon

  2. I don't know the state of astrophysics in Victorian America but ED certainly alllows for light from stars that hasn't yet reached us in her crazy-smart last line.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Ah, thinking of the stars as embers from a fire is fantastic. Morning, or birth, or beginning, flames up like elemental fire that throughout the day and rises toward evening, or death, or any ending. This is a powerful way of thinking about life itself. We burn, it burns, but is burning toward cool celestial sparks. Perhaps the ambiguity of that last line is intentional? I like that this night stars, our "crest", can never be consumed, and doesn't consume. It reminds me of Clarice Lispector's short story "The Smallest Woman in the World" and the lines, "She went on enjoying her own gentle smile, she who was not being devoured. Not being devoured is the secret objective a whole existence."

    I had to look up argent, the silvery tincture applied to the white spaces of a coat of arms. So the silvery night sky here becomes our coat of arms, our shared ancestry. "We are stardust" --Joni Mitchell (who just turned 80 last week.)

  5. Lines 5-6:

    “But Miles of Sparks — at Evening —
    Reveal the Width that burned —”

    For me, “Miles of Sparks” and “Width that burned” paint a gerrymandered ribbon of stars that form a miles-long linear “Territory”, a Milky Way, not a wide blanket of “Argent”.

    Lines 7-(8):

    “I count the last line of the poem as two lines put together in order to avoid what would otherwise be rather singsong-y” Susan K

    A careful perusal of ED’s manuscript suggests she intended the last line as Susan K has shown it; unconventional, no?