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02 November 2015

The Day that I was crowned

The Day that I was crowned
Was like the other Days —
Until the Coronation came —
And then — 'twas Otherwise —

As Carbon in the Coal
And Carbon in the Gem
Are One — and yet the former
Were dull for Diadem —

I rose, and all was plain —
But when the Day declined
Myself and It, in Majesty
Were equally — adorned —

The Grace that I — was chose —
To Me — surpassed the Crown
That was the Witness for the Grace —
'Twas even that 'twas Mine —
                            Fr613 (1863)  J356

While Scholar Barton Levi St. Armand thinks the poem is about the sun, I think it is about grace. Dickinson says as much in the final stanza. She was chosen by Grace, a concept rooted in Calvinism. In this branch of Christianity, very influential in Dickinson's time and place, only some people were elected for heaven. It was a heavenly favor, a grace rather than something earned. To suddenly be sure of your divine election would surely feel like a coronation; the knowledge would blaze like a glorious sunset.

Dickinson opens the poem in story-telling mode. The day that she was crowned began ordinarily enough. "All was plain". But somehow by day's end she was "adorned" in "Majesty", as transfigured as diamond from coal.

In regards to this, Sewall provides an illuminating excerpt (p.452-54) from one of Charles Wadsworth's sermons: "The value of a gem is not in its composition, but in its crystallization. Even the diamond is composed mainly of carbon, and differs from the black coal of our furnaces only in this transfiguration … But the spiritual man has through gracious crystallization become a gem, reflecting Divine light, and thus fitted for a diadem" (found in Richard Brandley's Emily Dickinson's Rich Conversation: Poetry, Phiulosophy, Science").
As Wadsworth points out, a "gracious crystallization" makes the redeemed soul fit for a crown. Dickinson was a great admirer of Wadsworth and read his sermons. And although this poem seems to emerge from the sermon, it is not entirely clear as to whether her crystallization was spiritual or imaginary, or whether she was using religious language to celebrate some other great transformation. Dickinson remains purposefully vague and ambiguous. There is no mention of heaven or God or Atman – or even the soul.

In the second two stanzas Dickinson leaves the carbon metaphor to end with a sunset analogy. The setting sun is adorned in majesty, its colors flaring across the heavens. The poem's speaker says that its glory was equal to her own. Ultimately, however, she deems the grace of being chosen as superior to the simpler adornment of the sun, the sky's crown. Dickinson even co-opts the sun, not only as a witness for her ascendency, but as dower. Sunset becomes hers: "'Twas even that 'twas Mine".
This vast claiming reminds me of Dickinson's proclamation in "I'm ceded – I've stopped being Theirs" (F353) where she says her childhood baptism was just something "They" did to her, but now she has "consciously, of Grace" been "Called to my Full", her "Existence's whole Arc, filled up". Both poems inhabit the liminal region where grace may be found or claimed or bestowed. Sometimes Dickinson claims the grace, as in "I'm Ceded"; sometimes she discovers it, as in this poem where she finds she is "chose". 


  1. Wonderful link to the Wadsworth sermon. Welcome back!

  2. Yay! You are back! And with a beautiful interpretation of this poem! I think that you are totally spot on, but I also wonder if there is a personal experience for Emily within this poem that we will never know about. Just one of those gut feelings...

  3. Great find with the Wadsworth sermon. So cool to see the source material for a poem. And it is doubly intriguing knowing that this poem could, possibly, be a love poem to Wadsworth himself. Does that check out with chronology?

    The reason I'm led to think of this as a love poem of sorts is because of that "chose". It is generally a person who chooses another. The idea of God choosing someone to receive grace, while not choosing others, doesn't seem like something ED would subscribe to. If she believed that, why put it in a poem? What good would that do the reader?

    It seems to me that there is always something ED is imparting to a reader, always a reason for the poem. It's not just a journal entry. It is framed the way it is to be read by a reader, to encapsulate and pass along some kind of knowledge or wisdom, or perhaps just to make something beautiful to lift the spirit.

    So I often ask myself what the poem is trying to get across. Love poems are weird, because they leave out the reader, especially if the reader is lonely.

    But in this case, as in the case of most of ED's love poems, she leaves the personal aspect indeterminate so that there's an alternative open sense we can share in of being in a relationship with the universe itself. You can be alone and still be "chose". In this sense we are all "chose", if we could only realize it. The poem helps us to realize it. The sunset helps us to realize it.

    Why then, in this poem, is this day different from days past? Perhaps because grace, due to the beauty of the sunset, was "realized". Once you realize grace the sunset itself is yours because you have become part of the whole, you are in "grace, you have become part of the sunset and it has become part of you. The coronation is this realization. You have already been chosen, but have only to take on the crown for yourself.

    This is a similar idea to what ED imparts in the poem "Tis little I could care for pearls/ who own the ample sea."

    Instead of being exclusive, it invites you to take on the crown of sunset too. Transcendentalism writ large

  4. “Great find with the Wadsworth sermon. So cool to see the source material for a poem. And it is doubly intriguing knowing that this poem could, possibly, be a love poem to Wadsworth himself. Does that check out with chronology?” (d scribe, November 17, 2023, above).

    Short answer, yes, perfectly. CW has absconded to San Francisco (to escape her incessant and engulfing passion??), ED has emerged from her pathological obsession with her unreal mental construct of Wadsworth, and she has settled into recognition that he was and is “A Fiction superseding Faith —/By so much — as 'twas real —”. Stay tuned for the next exciting (??) episode.

    Thanks to Susan’s prescient 02 November 2015 comment (above) about Wadsworth’s probable role in ‘The Day that I was crowned’, I’ve ordered Brantley’s book (not reader friendly according to reviewers and my perusal of Amazon’s “free sample”) and hope to better understand this watershed moment in ED’s poetry.

  5. My hypothesis above that Wadsworth “absconded to San Francisco (to escape her incessant and engulfing passion??)” is wrong. From 1850-1862, Wadsworth, a conservative minister, filled Arch Street Presbyterian Church to overflowing with his charismatic sermons, but his views that the Bible sanctioned slavery became a wedge between him and 90% of his congregation. To his credit, after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumpter, he opposed southern secession from the Union. However, most of his congregation wanted religious condemnation of slavery, which he could not in good conscious provide. Fortunately, his political support for maintaining the Union was enough to get a job offer from Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco, a congregation of predominantly southern immigrants.

    (Benjamin Lease. 1990. Emily Dickinson's Readings of Men and Books).

  6. You are the Bee's go-to guy for Wadsworth, for sure. Both the info about Bible-sanctioned slavery and the Diadem count and connection are interesting!

  7. “Diadem” was one of Wadsworth's favorite words. He used it 20 times in 20 sermons delivered in San Francisco, 1862-1868, and probably as frequently in many more sermons delivered in Philadelphia, 1850-1862, many of which ED read before she composed this 1863 poem, ‘The Day that I was crowned’.

    After Wadsworth returned to Philadelphia from San Francisco in 1869, he used the word “diadem” 15 times in 15 published sermons, 1869-1882. (Wadsworth, C., D.D. 1905. Sermons. Eagle Book and Job Printing, Philadelphia)

    Her first use of “diadem” was in her 1861 version of ‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers’ (Variant C), which she sent to Sue, but she didn't use it in her 1859 version of that poem. In total, she used “diadem” 14 times, five in 1861, three in 1862, five in 1863, once in 1866, and never again in 688 poems.

    Circumstantial evidence of Wadsworth's influence? That seems unlikely to me.

  8. Fr# Year Poem line containing "Diadem"

    124 1861 Diadems - drop - and Doges - surrender -
    246 1861 The want of Diadems!
    248 1861 Intact - in Diadem!
    254 1861 On Subjects Diadem -
    267 1861 Then - my Diadem put on.
    353 1862 With one small Diadem.
    385 1862 Make-a Diadem-and mend my old One
    418 1862 And scarce of Diadems -
    481 1863 A futile Diadem -
    497 1863 A Diadem to fit a Dome -
    553 1863 And Diadems -a Tale -
    600 1863 Diadem -or Ducal Showing -
    613 1863 Were dull for Diadem -
    1121 1866 Without her Diadem.

    The 1866 “Diadem” poem, ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean’ (F1121), separated by three years and 508 poems from the previous one (F613), says a sad sayonara to Charles Wadsworth:

    “The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean.
    A Travelling Flake of Snow
    Across a Barn or through a Rut
    Debates if it will go —

    A Narrow Wind complains all Day
    How some one treated him
    Nature, like Us is sometimes caught
    Without her Diadem”

    Note that “Diadem” is always capitalized, especially in her goodbye.