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26 June 2015

A Night — there lay the Days between —

A Night — there lay the Days between —
The Day that was Before —
And Day that was Behind — were One —
And now — 'twas Night — was here —

Slow — Night — that must be watched away —
As Grains upon a shore —
Too imperceptible to note —
Till it be night — no more —
                                                            F609 (1863)  J471

Dickinson depicts a sleepless night using a rather numbing repetitive structure in the first stanza and a very slow pace in the second.  The first stanza could be paraphrased as "It was night." Dickinson stretches the notion out every which way, expanding on the notion of "night" as if counting sheep. The night is between two days: there is one Before and one Behind. It all seems one with the endless night.
painting, Lois Lang
            Dickinson sprinkles various rhymes throughout the stanza, increasing the repetitiveness. There are the repeating Day/Days and Night, plus two "and"s and four uses of "was".  "Lay" rhymes with "Day" and all the whispery "w" sounds seem to beg for drowsiness to take over: between, was, was, were, One, now, 'twas, was. There's not an active verb in the entire stanza. One imagines the poet lying in bed making a little chant about the situation.
The second stanza creeps along in a wearier voice. "Slow – Night – " is a very slow spondee with its long vowels and dashes. Long vowels predominate: slow, night, away, grains, shore, too, note, night, no, more. Watching the night away is as tedious as trying to discern the individual grains of sand on the beach. The moments seem endless.

I feel sleepy just studying this poem.


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  2. I believe the poem depicts suicidal tendencies. The second stanza seems to allure to the monotonous nature of life awaiting the escape of death. Night no more

    1. Interesting. Perhaps life is Night; at life's blessed end there is light once again.